The popular Hindu harvest festival of Onam is the biggest and most important festival for Malayalis across the world. Onam is celebrated in the Malayalam calendar of Chingam, corresponding with the month of August- September in the Gregorian Calendar. This marks as the beginning of the Malayalam New Year, and the celebrations take place over a period of ten days.
This year, the festival dates are 15th August to 27th August. The unprecedented rain and resultant floods have marred the celebrations in Kerala this year.
Onam celebrates the arrival of Hindu mythological king Mahabali, or Maveli, with a grand and scrumptious feast along with energetic games like boat race and dance performances such as tiger dance, mask dance and ritualistic martial arts.
The significance of Onam
Onam is an ancient Hindu festival of Kerala that celebrates rice harvest. According to legends, the then king Mahabali defeated the gods and took over all the three worlds. The gods then approached Lord Vishnu for help. In order to test Mahabali’s devotion, Lord Vishnu disguised as a dwarf ‘Vamana’ approached him while he was performing a yajna where the kind king promised to fulfill anyone’s request.
Lord Vishnu requested for a piece of land which would measure three paces in length, and Mahabali granted His wish.
Vishnu then grew in size and took over every property Mahabali ruled in just two paces. For the third pace, Mahabali offered his head as an act of sacrifice.
Impressed by his undying devotion towards him, Lord Vishnu granted him a boon that once a year he could return to his kingdom to meet the people and the land.
It is this visit of Mahabali that is celebrated each year as Onam.
Onam: The celebration
A “pookalam” (flower carpet) is laid in front of every house to welcome the arrival of king Maveli. Earthen mounds are placed in dung-clustered courtyards representing Mahabali and Vishnu.
A nine-course meal consisting of 11 to 13 essential dishes is served on banana leaves in the grand feast known as Onasadya. It is served on the main day of the celebrations – Thiruonam.
Celebrations include singing of folk songs, traditional dances , games and performances.
This harvest festival is celebrated with joy and enthusiasm by Malayalis all over the state, and the world.