Children, Bharat is a land of diverse religions and every State of the country witnesses the celebration of varied festivals. Onam is one such important festival and is celebrated in the months of August-September in the State of Kerala. In Kerala, Onam is a 10-day festival, beginning with the Atham (first day) and culminating with the Thiruvonam (last day).The earliest record of the festival is found during the reign of Kulasekhara Perumals around AD 800.
The festival has three specific significances. Firstly, it is the celebration of the harvest, tied with the memory of the golden age of prosperity. Secondly and most importantly, it is believed to commemorate the Mahabali legend. And thirdly, Onam is believed by many Malayalees to be the occasion when Parasurama visits Kerala. It is said to be the time when Parasurama recovered Kerala from the sea.
The people of Kerala observe the occassion in honour of Mahabali, the mythical Asura king of ancient Kerala.The story of King Mahabali is found in the Bhagavata Purana (also known as Srimad Bhagavatam), the most sacred Hindu text. According to it, long ago there lived King Mahabali, a powerful demon who ruled the nether world(underworld).Though a demon by birth, he rejoiced in doing good deeds and giving alms to the poor. No person coming to his door ever left empty-handed.Once, while performing the sacrificial rite of Viswajit Yajna or Aswamedha Yajna on the banks of Narmada River, Bali declared that he would give anything that anyone sought from him during this Yajna.
Carnival of Onam lasts for ten days and brings out the best of Kerala culture and tradition. Intricately decorated Pookalam, ambrosial Onasadya, breathtaking Snake Boat Race and exotic Kaikottikali dance are some of the most remarkable features of Onam – the harvest festival in Kerala.
Mahabali's rule was considered as the golden era of Kerala. It is said that the demon king had brought great peace and prosperity to the land. The people believe that Onam is the time when Mahabali comes to Kerala annually to see his subjects. Till today, the Keralites celebrate Onam festival to commemorate the memory of the great King Mahabali who gave everything to keep his promise. True to his name ‘Mahabali’ (meaning Great Sacrifice), Bali made the supreme sacrifice for the sake of Satya (Truth).
The growing popularity and fame of King Mahabali planted jealousy in the minds of Gods who became extremely concerned. Taking advantage of the kind king’s nature, Lord Vishnu disguised as Vamana went to the king and asked for a piece of land. The generous King said that he could have as much land as he wanted although the Brahmin needed just three steps of land. As soon as the King granted land to the Brahmin, he started growing in cosmic proportions. That is when the King understood that he was not an ordinary Brahmin. The first step of Lord Vishnu covered the world, second the whole of the skies. Since there was no place for his third step. Bali surrendered his head and asked him to step on it so that the Lord could have some place to put his foot and he too could save his respect. Vishnu was pleased at the devotion of Mahabali. So he granted him rule over nether land. But Bali had a great affinity for his earthly kingdom. So he requested Lord Vishnu to allow him to visit his kingdom to see his people once a year. The Lord fulfilled this wish of Mahabali. He granted Mahabali the permission to visit his subjects once a year. Malayalees believe that Mahabali visit them every Onam and hence celebrate the festival.
So children let us all wait for king Mahabali to make his annual trip to Kerela – ‘Gods Own Country’ on September 13th to bless the people of his kingdom.