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Onam - The Significance And How It Is Celebrated

Festivals in India are so colourful and celebrated with much joy and enthusiasm. While the people in Kerala don't celebrate festivals like Ganesha Chaturthi, Onam is considered to be a very important and holy festival in Kerala. It is a Hindu festival that celebrates the beloved King Mahabali's love for his kingdom and his devotion to Lord Vishnu.

Onam is a festival which is celebrated with much pomp and show in Kerala. The celebrations go on for 10 days. It is celebrated in the month of August-September every year. The celebrations involve plenty of dancing, flower decorations, boat races and of course, a grand feast. Read on to find out what the festival is all about and how it is celebrated.

/ History behind Onam

Once upon a time, there lived a great king named Bali who was loved by all in his kingdom. He was famous for his generosity for he would never hesitate to help someone in need. For this reason, the people would lovingly call him King Mahabali.

Soon, the Gods heard about this king who was becoming popular and decided to put him to test. Lord Vishnu was sent down to test the great king. He came in the form of a Brahmin dwarf called Vamana. He went up to King Mahabali and asked him if he could borrow some land. Mahabali agreed and then asked him how much land he wanted. Vamana replied that he just wanted as much as his feet would cover in 3 steps.

Mahabali was taken aback at how little land he was asking for. His advisor warned him saying that the dwarf did not seem like an ordinary person but being a man of his word, Mahabali asked him to take 3 steps of land. At this moment, Vamana started to grow and expand himself to cosmic proportions. With his first step, he covered the Earth and the second step covered the Skies. He then looked down at Mahabali and asked him where to take the third step. Mahabali, being a loyal devotee of Lord Vishnu, offered his head for the third step. As Lord Vishnu took the third step on Mahabali’s head, the king was pushed down into the Netherlands.

The great lord was so impressed by the king’s sacrifice and devotion that he decided to grant him one wish. King Mahabali loved the people in his kingdom a lot and so he wished to return to visit his people every year. His wish was granted and it is believed that the great king returns to the Earth at the start of every year according to the Malayalam Calendar. This month is called Chingam and usually falls in August-September.

Onam Celebrations

This year, Thiru Onam, the Second day of Onam, falls on 4th September. Thiru Onam or Thiruvonam means Sacred Day of Onam. This is the main day when King Mahabali visits people’s homes. People wear new clothes on this day and enjoy an elaborate vegetarian feast with their family. The women also perform a hand clapping dance in a circular formation called the Kaikottikali or Thumbi Thullal.

In Kerala, the actual celebrations start as early as August 25th, when Mahabali starts his journey to visit his kingdom. People begin decorating the front of their houses with Pookalam, which is a floral arrangement meant to welcome the king to their homes. They add fresh flowers to this everyday and make it look even more spectacular.

Uthradom or First day of Onam, 3rd September, is when people rush around to finish up their Onam shopping and get their houses all cleaned up and ready for the king’s arrival the next day. Avittom, Third day of Onam, which is when preparations begin for Mahabali’s departure from the kingdom. The Pookalam is washed off and cleaned up and the Onathappan statues are immersed in a river or sea.

On the Fourth day of Onam, Chathayam, people continue with the final Onam celebrations which include the famous boat races called Vallam Kali, Pulikali (tiger play) and Kaikottikali (women’s hand clap dance).

Wish you a very happy Onam - Onam Ashamsagal.

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