God ''Onathappan'' and Onam festival

Onam, pyramidal image of Onathappan shutterstock.com

Onam, pyramidal image of Onathappan oventales.com

The annual Onam festival of Kerala which is more than a community event  will be incomplete without  praying to  Onathappan who is the prime character in this mythology.   Also referred to as  Thrikkakara Appan or Thrikakkarappan, he is god-incarnate, an avatar of  one of the Trinity gods in Hinduism -  god Mahavishnu who took the guise of a Brahmin sage Vamana  and sought ''Biksha'' (alms) in the form of 3 steps or strides of land from Mahabali Raja. Mahabali was an embodiment of charity,  just like Karnan in the great epic of  Mahabharata in which god Krishna in the guise of a Brahmin saint sought Karnan's ''good deeds'' (punya) and also his  kavacha kundalam as gift to save Pandava brother Arjuna from near death to be caused by Karnan).   


A clay pyramidal  structure with four or three faces and a flat top  symbolizes Thrikkakara Appan or Thrikakkarappan or Vamana.  Though some consider that the  pyramids represent both King Maveli and Vishnu, for many it is God Vamana.  The pyramidal images have both spiritual and mythological connotations.  The four faces of the pyramid represent the four stages in the life of a man. Pyramid with 3 faces is widely used  and they represent  the ''three steps'' of land requested by mendicant Vamana to King Mahabali.

During Onam on the day of Pooradam  the people  install  images  of King Mahabali and Lord Vamana  at home 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. He is decked with flowers and pujas are performed. 

On the final day of Onam  Keralites give a farewell to king Mahabali and send him back to the pathal loka - nether world, and, at he same time, they take the clay structure (Onathappan) to a near-by water body and immerse him with bhakti and reference as  Vamana is god-incarnate.  It is said that god sent Mahabali to Vaikunta (heaven) or“Vishnu sayujyam.”

At the  famous Thrikakkara temple, near Kochi  in Ernakulam District of Kerala Thrikkakarappan is the presiding deity  and is closely associated with the Onam myth. Here, one can witness a big sale of the pyramidal clay image of  God Vamana who is symbol of Sri Vishnu. Owing to paucity of clay,  the price of the Onathappan images have gone up very much. The temple being an important one, lots of devotees in this area buy them to install them at home and in the center of the pookolam. the purpose is to seek their blessings .  Immersing the clay images  on the final day is a must and it is symbolic of dissolving our negativity, our troubles, evil, thoughts, etc. 

High  prices have not deterred the buyers in the place to buy the images.  Onathappan made of wood and concrete blocks were also available on the market where the source material clay became scarce. People from far off places  like Alappuzha and Kottayam came here to buy the images