Onam is a special festival for Keralites. Since I am a Pallakad Iyer, I get the honour & privilege of celebrating both Vishu (Tamil New Year) & Onam as well. Hey, I am not complaining coz I get to make & serve some delicious meals on Banana leaf that’s called the OnaSadya or the festive spread of food.
Onam is a state festival of Kerala which falls in the Malayalam calender month of Chingam. It marks the summer harvest & is celebrated as one of the major annual event in Kerala. The festivities include Vallam Kali (Boat race), PuliKali (Tiger dance), Pookkalam (Floral arrangements at homes), Tug of war, dance by woman folk, some martial arts performance & not to mention the grand OnaSadya or the grand festive lunch that’s served on a banana leaf.
According to Hindu mythology, Onam is celebrated for Mahabali, who was the great great grandson of Sage Kashyapa, the great grandson of Hiranyakashipu & the grandson of Vishnu devotee Prahlada.
As you all know, Prahlada prayed to Lord Vishnu when Hiranyakashipu tries to kill him and Lord Vishnu appeared in his Narasimha Avatar (One of the 10 avatars of Lord Vishnu) to slain Hiranyakashipu.
Prahlada’s grandson Mahabali came to power by defeating the gods, the Devas and taking over the three worlds. According to Vaishnavism mythology, the defeated Devas approached Vishnu for help in their battle with Mahabali. Vishnu refused to join the gods in violence against Mahabali, because Mahabali was a good ruler and his own devotee. He, instead, decided to test Mahabali’s devotion at an opportune moment. Mahabali, after his victory over the gods, declared that he will perform Yajna (homa sacrifices) and grant anyone any request during the Yajna. Vishnu took the avatar of a dwarf boy called Vamana and approached Mahabali. The king offered anything to the boy – gold, cows, elephants, villages, food, whatever he wished. The boy said that one must not seek more than one needs, and all he needs is the property right over a piece of land that measures “three paces”. Mahabali agreed.
The Vamana grew and covered everything Mahabali ruled over in just two paces. For the third pace, Mahabali offered himself, an act which Vishnu accepted as evidence of Mahabali’s devotion. Vishnu granted him a boon, by which Mahabali could visit again, once every year, the lands and people he previously ruled. This revisit marks the festival of Onam, as a reminder of the virtuous rule and his humility in keeping his promise before Vishnu. The last day of Mahabali’s stay is remembered with a nine-course vegetarian Onasadya feast.