Onam is a rice harvest festival celebrated in the southern state, Kerala of India. The most unique feature of this festival is its celebration by the followers of all natives of Kerala irrespective of their religion and caste. Onam is celebrated in regard of lord Vishnu’s Vaman avatar and the visit of king Mahabali to Kerala from heaven.
Once Kerala was under the kingdom of demon king Mahabali. He was the grandson of Prahlad, who himself was a great devotee of lord Vishnu. At that time he was not only ruling on earth but heavens too. He was the most popular king of that time and had reached near the dignity of gods due to his significant work for the welfare of people. So gods went to lord Vishnu to suppress the growing popularity of demon king Mahabali.
Mahabali was going to organise Ashwamedh yagya near the bank of river Narmada. Prior to this yagya ( a kind of worship ) he announced to fulfil, every demand of people visiting that place. Lord Vishnu took Vaman avatar, who looked like an innocent boy. He demanded three steps of land from the king Mahabali. On which, the king laughed and accepted his demand, neglecting the warning of demon guru “ Sukracharya ”. Lord Vishnu measured the whole world and heaven in just two steps. Mahabali understood his mistake and in order to save his words he asked lord Vishnu to land his third step on his head. Due to it, he was suppressed to underworld. Lord Vishnu was so impressed with him that he gave him a boon of returning and visiting his kingdom every year from then. Since then Onam is celebrated in Kerala.
Onam falls between the month of August and September. People used to design flower mats called Pookalam in front of their home to welcome king Mahabali. One of the most popular feature of Onam is Vallamkali, the snake boat race, organised on the Pamba river. The celebration of Onam starts on Atham day and continue for 10 days till Thiruvonam. Each day has its own significance, which are mentioned below :
1) Atham : It is the first day of Onam and it marks the beginning of this festival. It is said that king Mahabali starts preparing to visit Kerala from heaven on this day.
2) Chithira : On second day of Onam, people starts cleaning their house.
3) Chodi : On third day of Onam, people used to do shopping.
4) Vishakam : On this day competitions like Pookalam competition starts. It is one of the most pious day of Onam.
5) Anizham : This day is celebrated as rehearsal for the Aranmula boat race.
6) Thriketa : Schools and Offices start issuing holidays from this day. And people starts preparing for Onam.
7) Moolam : Prayers are held in the temple. Dances like Puli Kali and Kaikotti kali are performed on this day. Onam special lunch – Onasadya starts in many places. Government holidays are observed from this day onwards.
8) Pooradam : On this day, statues of Mahabali and lord Vamana are cleaned and moved around the house. It is then placed in the middle of Pookalam. From this day, statues are called Onathappan. People used to shop on this day for the celebration of Thiruvonam day.
9) Uthradom : It is also called first Onam because it is believed that king Mahabali lands on Kerala from heaven on this particular day and visits his kingdom for the next four days. On this day people used to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.
10) Thiruvonam : It is the last day of this festival. It is called second Onam. According to holy stories, it is the day when Mahabali was suppressed by Vamana to the underworld. On this day the senior female of the family present new clothes to every member of that family. A grand feast called “Onasadya” is prepared on this day. Onasadya is served on the leaves of banana and people used to sit on mat, placed on floor to take the meal. Special prayers are organised in the temples, churches and Mosques representing the secular nature of Onam.
Generally, Thiruvonam is the last day of Onam celebration but the next two days are also celebrated as the third and fourth Onam; when king Mahabali prepares to return to heaven. Onathappan is immersed in the nearby river. The removal of Pookalam marks the end of Onam.
Today where religions are the ultimate cause of division of the people of the same country, Onam is a significant example of bringing every sections of society together irrespective of their religion and caste. Religion is only a way to show your devotion to god. It should not be used to differentiate between people because every creature of this world is the son of same god. Onam should be celebrated by everyone of us because it will bring us closer to each other