The story behind why Onam is celebrated

A magnificent occasion with a legendary tale!

By: Poornima

Onam... the moment we hear this festival, our minds are flooded with flowers, beautiful woman cladded with the famous 'Kerala Sari', men in pattu mundu (Dhotti/Veshti), a plethora of kolams that boasts about creativity, intricateness and colours and finally (cause I'm saving the best for last!), the never ending amount of food that gives you hunger pangs more than ever! Born in the lands of God's own Country, this is the kind of festival that has gone ahead to carve a niche in its neighbouring states as well. Just as the festival itself, Onam has an interesting tale behind it! While we narrate it to you, just remember to pause and utter the 'ohhhs' and 'aahs' at the right place for this is sure going to keep you hooked!

The Legend of Mahabali

The entire tale behind Onam becomes overly fascinating just by this single most entity - King Mahabali. The legend has it that the King's every year visit to Kerala is celebrated as Onam and that he is greatly respected by the people and his subjects. It is worth mentioning that other popular name of King Mahabali is Onathappan and Maveli.

Who is Mahabali?    

It is believed that Mahabali was born to Veerochana and his grandfather was Prahlad - the god-fearing son of Hiranyakashyap, a demon king. Mahabali's son was Bana, who went on to become a popular legend in the regions of Central Assam. Kind Bana was fondly called as Banraj. Even though King Mahabali hails from Asura clan, he turned out to be devout worshipper of almighty Vishnu. His strength and bravery laced with character got him the name Mahabali - The King of Kings or "Mahabali Chakravathy".

King Mahabali and the State of Kerala

Stories from legends say that Mahabali, the demon king once ruled Kerala. He was very generous, wise and judicious thus was immensely respected by the people of his kingdom. In fact, it is believed that Kerala was experiencing a golden era when King Mahabali ruled it. The King ruled Kerala with such zeal that it is said the people were never discriminated based on their class, caste or status, the land was free of corruption and crimes. Diseases, sorrows and poverty were never in their books and the people were content and happy.

Image Source: Pintrest

The envy of Gods!

Well, apparently, the ever-increasing fame and popularity of King Mahabali did not go well with the gods and they grew jealous. As their supremacy was put under threat, the gods drew a plan to reaffirm their position. In order to keep their supremacy intact, Goddess Aditi approached Lord Vishnu, the most revered by Mahabali.
King Mahabali was indeed famous for his charitable act and generosity and it is believed that he never said no to people who sought his help/charity. In order to test this, Vishnu disguised as Vamana, a dwarf and poor Brahmin and visited Mahabali's kingdom while the king was about to offer boons to Brahmins post morning prayers.

Lord Vishnu's Vamana Avatar

Lord Vishnu who was disguised as Vamana went to King Mahabali and told that he is a hapless Brahmin and requests a small portion of land. King Mahabali, the most generous and kind said the Brahmin could have whatever amount of land he wishes to have. However, the poor Brahmin requested he only wanted the land that his three steps cover leaving the king surprised.

Shukracharya, the learned and wise from the king's court felt Vamana was no ordinary Brahmin and advised the king against the promise. Oblivious to the fact that Vamana is almighty Vishnu himself, Mahabali went on to grant the boon stating a King cannot back on his own words since it is a sin.

As the king granted the boon, Vamana expanded magnificently in front of their eyes take the size of huge cosmic proportions. With Vamana's first step, he covered the entire earth and he covered the skies with his second step. The Lord asked Mahabali "Now where do I keep my third step?”

Realising that this man no ordinary Brahmin and his third step would lead to destruction of earth, King Mahabali bowed and folded his hands before Vamana and offered his head for keeping the third step so as to keep up his word. As Lord Vishnu keeps his third step on Mahabali, the King was pushed to a nether world, Patala. Over here, the King demanded the true identity of the poor dwarf Brahmin. Finally, Lord Vishnu appeared before Mahabali and revealed his true identity. The Lord went on to add that he played with the king to test him and he has won this test. Adding to this, Lord Vishnu offered a boon to the pleased King.

Mahabali's earnest request

King Mahabali was very much attached to his kingdom and requested he wishes to visit the God's Own Country at least once a year. Moved by the king's affection and nobility, the Lord granted his wish. Lord Vishnu also blessed Mahabali that his people and Lord Vishnu would love him even after losing his worldly belongings.

The birth of Onam

Across the state of Kerala, every year, this day is celebrated as Onam. This festival marks as a tribute to King Mahabali's sacrifice. As Onam approaches, people of Kerala make larger than life preparations for welcoming their beloved King. Thiruvonam that falls on the second day is regarded as an important and biggest day of Onam festival. It is largely believed King Mahabali visits his people on this day.

Onam is celebrated grandly in the regions of Trikkakara that is 10 kms from Cochin. It is believed that this place is King Mahabali's capital. This place also holds a temple with Vamanamurthy/Trikkakara Appan deity. It is worth mentioning that one cannot find the Vamanamurthy deity in the state of Kerala. Similarly, this beguiling legend is beautifully told in the Suchindram Temple that is in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu.