India is a country that pulsates with its varied culture and rich heritage. Each of her 29 states and 9 Union territories has their own traditions, culture and festivals.
Onam, is the state festival of Kerala. It is the harvest festival which falls in the Malayalam month of ‘Chingam’ (August – September). After the drain drenched Karkidakam, the month of Chingam, which is also the first month according to Malayalam calendar, is something which every Keralite look forward to. This month creates in a festive mood in every soul. Onam celebrations last for 10 days, starting from ‘Atham’ to ‘Thiruvonam’.
There is an interesting legend behind this festival. It goes like this. Long time ago, there lived a king, named Mahabali. He was a powerful demon. He was a wise, judicious ruler. His subjects loved him. There was equality, justice and prosperity in his kingdom. Soon, Mahabali’s fame began to spread far and wide. It reached Devalok, the land of Gods or Devas too. They started feeling insecure and were afraid, that soon Mahabali might over-power them. So Devas approached Mahavishnu for help who in turn incarnated as Vamana, a young Brahman. He approached Mahabali and asked for alms. Mahabali, being a pious and generous ruler, promised him to give whatever he wished for. Vamana’s demand was simple – the amount of land he could measure in three paces. Mahabali agreed happily. Vamana started to grow in size. In the first footstep, he measured all of the earth. In the second, he claimed the heaven. There was no place for his third step. Mahabali surrendered and asked Vamana to step on his head so that he could keep up his promise. Vamana stepped on his head and the King was pushed to ‘Pathalam’ or hell. Vishnu was pleased by this gesture and granted Mahabali the permission to visit his subjects, once a year. It is believed, that Mahabali comes every year during Onam to visit his beloved subjects.
Keralites decorate their homes and hearts to welcome Mahabali. Starting from Atham, a floral rangoli is put in front of every house, till Thiruvonam. Children roam around to collect flowers for the same. They are excited about getting new clothes from the elders of the family. A delicious feast is prepared on the day of Thiruvonam and the entire family enjoys it together. Various games are played during this period. The legendary Aranmula Boat race is also held during Onam time.
Off-late, there is a significant change in the way of celebration. Children are so busy with their academics, that we seldom see them wandering for flowers. Moreover, the availability of these flowers has also decreased. People prefer buying flowers from the market, which are imported from the neighbouring states. Working women these days, find it difficult to prepare an elaborate feast. So, the ready-to eat packed sadya, including payasam comes handy.
The way of celebration might have changed with time. But this has not killed the spirit of Onam. Even now, every Malayali, in which ever part of the globe he is, despite of his caste and creed, celebrates this festival with great pomp and gaiety.