Onam is a festival peculiar to Kerala, celebrated by people of all religion and caste. There are many beautiful stories about this festival. The most commonly believed among the Onam related legends is that of King Mahabali. According to legend, the state’s most colorful festival, Onam celebrates the golden age of King Mahabali, the mythical ruler of Kerala. The festival is to welcome the spirit of King Mahabali, and to assure that his people are happy and wish him well. The myth goes like this:
It is believed that the people of the region were extremely happy and content during his rule. On seeing this gods got envious
of him and asked Lord Vishnu to take away his kingdom. Lord Vishnu disguised as a Brahmin dwarf Vamana, asked the King for three steps of land, which he readily granted. Vishnu then shed his disguise and covered the earth and heaven in two steps. For the third, King Mahabali offered his head. However, before putting his foot on Mahabali’s head, Lord Vishnu granted the King’s last wish, that he be able to visit his kingdom once every year. It is to welcome Mahabali back to his kingdom that Onam is celebrated with such joy.
Onam is one of the most ancient Hindu festivals which is still celebrated with a great devotion. It is celebrated for ten days - Atham is the first day and Thiruvonam is the final day of the celebration.
People wear new clothes, decorate their house and put flowers carpets called “Pookalam” in front of their houses, to welcome the King Mahabali. Special pujas are offered in the temples in early morning and younger members take blessings and gifts from the elder members of the family.
On the last day of this festival, conical figures of sticky clay are painted red. These figures are decorated with water and rice-flour and can be seen on prominent places of the house or in the front of the yard. During Onam traditional rituals are performed followed by a lavish feast with twenty one homemade curries and sweet payasam on plantain leaf.
Spectacular carnivals of elephants, fireworks, boat races music and the famous Kathakalli dance are traditionally associated with this festival. The state government of Kerala conducts Tourism Week celebrations in connection with Onam, showcasing Kerala’s beauty and culture.