Onam festival of Kerala, 2022 - it imparts equality and fraternity

Happy Onam 2022.  in.pinterest

India being a land of varied cultures has some sort of festival all through the year. You may be tempted to say that there is no day in the calendar on which some where some communities will be celebrating a  festival or the other.  Unlike many Hindu festivals that carry a moral theme linking the victor and vanquished, the popular festival Kerala that is part of the deep-rooted cultural ethos of God's own country has a defiant message - respecting  the Assura king Mahabali, a charitable person  and at the same time paying obeisance  to mendicant Vamana (an avatar of Mahavishnu) who had stomped on the head of  Mahabali and sent him to nether world -pathalam (actually the real meaning is the lowest state of mind; Mahabali was too egotistical and it was responsible for his downfall, despite his good attributes). On the day of Pooradam  the devotees install  images  of King Mahabali and Lord Vamana as a gesture of  welcoming  Mahabali to all the houses. The clay pyramid-like image placed in the center of Pookalam is also termed as Onathappam. On the day of Avittom  Malayalees, with respect send off king Mahabali to the patal loka and, at the same time, with reverence and devotion immerse the clay idol of Onathappan (god Vamana). Pookolam in front of the home will be removed only after immersion in the water. Thus in Onam both the Assura -demon and the Almighty god are looked upon as humans without frailty. 


Onam festival may appear subaltern in terms of divinity but it is the most famous festival in Kerala where other major Hindu festivals like Deepawali, Karthikai, Holi, Sankaranti are relegated to the back stage and  restricted to the small groups  of migrant  communities. 

.mind-boggling pookolam with flowers, Onam keralam.me/onam

Onam clebration pookolam ( Using flowers) hindustantimes.com

Above image: Onam celebration, Bhobal, MP.  Malyali community of Mahabali Nagar, Bhobal decorated the biggest pookolam to honor king Mahabali (an old picture).  Normally, during the festival day by day the pookkalam becomes larger and larger and more elaborate.

The annual Onam, an harvest festival in Kerala, falls in the Malayalam month of Chingam  and  is celebrated with great pomp and pageantry, traversing across the barriers of caste and religion. For centuries this festivity  is looked upon as  the celebration of equality in all forms - caste, gender and race.

This year the 10-day festival  began on 31 August and will end on the 10th day - 10th of September. The first day is known as Atham, and the festivity culminates on the tenth day, known as Thiru Onam or Thiruvonam, which is the most auspicious day during Onam. Plans are afoot and the  present CM of Kerala  will inaugurate the Onam Celebrations at a much-hyped-up ceremony at the Nishagandhi open air theatre at Kanakakunnu Palace grounds on September 6.  In Kerala and other Indians states the daily life has turned normal after having been in a state of gloom in the previous years due to Covid-19.

Why does Onam festival stand apart from other festivals. This festival embraces  both the victor - Vamana (god) and vanquished - Mahabali (demon king). People with great joy wait for  the annual visit of Assura King Mahabali who comes to Kerala to interact with his subjects. Women in particular, take special interest  and welcome the king by making pookolams - using flowers of various hues in a geometric pattern in front of their home. Each day of the festivity, they add additional layer of pookolam. Since sage Vamana happened to be God Vishnu, he occupies the center of the pookolam (Rangoli). The women in the family also make a big vegetarian feast called  sadya  with 26 mouth-watering dishes served on the banana leaf as part of the festivity.  

Onam fest, Snake boat race, kerala. blog.wego.com

Onam Snake boat race, Kerala. oyorooms.com

Above image: Onam fest, Kerala:  On the day of Chatayam or Fourth Onam or 10 th day of the fest boat races pulikali dance performances will be held.  in many places.....

Onam festival people wearing kathakali costume.  blog.wego.com

Onam, intertwined with Kerala's culture includes several cultural events, mention may be made of  Vallam Kali (boat races in the river Pampa), Pulikali (tiger dances), Onathappan (worship of Vamana),  Thumbi Thullal (women’s dance), Kummattikali (mask dance), Onathallu (martial arts), Onapottan (costumes),etc.

sage Vamana putting the 3rd step on Mahabali's head. bhaskar.com

King Mahabali.  istockphoto.com

Above image:  Mythological king  Mahabali  (also known as Bali or Māveli), a Daitya king as per in Hindu texts  is the grandson of Prahlada and a descendant of sage Kashyapa. According to to the mythology he was an honest and dedicated king, giving priority to the welfare and tranquility of his subjects who were treated on par. He never encouraged culminal activities in his kingdom. He transformed his kingdom into a heavenly place. God Vishnu  banished all-powerful Bali  to the patala or the netherworld by taking the  Vamana Avatar. Upon Mahabali' request  God Vishnu  granted him  the boon, 'whereby he returns to earth once a year when he will be remembered and worshipped, and reincarnate in a future birth as Indra'

He is said to be  Chiranjivi (life of eternity ) and his  legend is an integral part the annual festival of Onam in the state of Kerala, and of  Balipratipada (the fourth day of Deepavali and first day of Kartika month) festival in North India & Tulunadu.

Ulaglantha Perumal, TN.rajiyinkanavugal.blogspot.com

God Vishnu in giant form taking 3 steps.upload.wikimedia.org

Above image:  6th-century Trivikrama-Vamana-Bali (Karnataka, Badami Cave 3, Vamana (image damaged). Mahavishnu in giant form taking 3 strides/steps. Top image: God Vishnu in this form is known in Tamil  as Ongi Ulagalantha Uttama Perumal). Thiru Vikraswami temple, Thirukovilur, TN .......

The reason why Mahabali has  won the heart of the people is when he was  facing an impending danger - the Almighty standing before him in giant form, being a person of charity, he stuck to his word and kept  up the promise of 3 strides of land demanded by sage Vamana. He was loathe to break his  word, to him it was more than a sin. With no option, he  showed his head to God  to put the third pace  on it; God Vishnu had already covered the earth and sky with two strides. Mahabali never went back on his words. 

According to many folklores, he was a just ruler and during his reign people were happy. All were treated well and it was a period of plenty, peace and tranquility; no criminal activities, no cheating.  In this festivity, the Assura is never looked upon as an evil force to despise with.  This is the reason why God Vishnu gave him salvation/ Mukti to spend his blissful time in his divine shadow and  allowed  Mahabali to visit his subjects in Kerala on the day of Thiruonam.


Bali Pratipadā, 

Bali Pratipadā, sanatan.org

Bali Prathipda is similar to  Onam and it  commemorates the annual return of Mahabali to earth and it falls on the fourth day of Deepavali. Also called Bali Padyami, it is held in honor of  the purported return of the daitya-king Bali to earth. celebration comes in the months October–November. It is the first day of the Hindu month Kartika and is the start of the bright lunar fortnight. It is celebrated in parts of Maharashtra  and north Karnataka.