Onam(ഓണം) is the largest festival in the Indian state of Kerala. It falls during the first month of the Malayalam calendar which is Chingam (August–September) and marks the homecoming of the legendary King Mahabali.The festival lasts for ten days and is linked to many elements of Kerala's culture and tradition. Intricate flower carpets, elaborate banquet lunch, snake boat races, Puli Kali, and the Kaikottikkali dance all play a part in the festival.
Onam is an ancient festival which still survives in the Modern times. Kerala's rice harvest festivaland the festival of rain flowers which fell on the Malayalam month of Chingam celebrated the annual visit from pathalam[Hell] of the very noble Demon King Mahabali. Onam is unique since king Mahabali is revered by people of Kerala from prehistory.It is this visit of Mahabali that is celebrated as Onam every year. People including children celebrate the festival in a grand way and impress upon their dear King that they are happy and wish him well. According to the legend, Kerala witnessed its golden era during the reign of King Mahabali. Everybody in the state was happy and prosperous and the king was highly regarded by his subjects. He was that much highly regarded among the subjects that even the Gods under Indra became jealous of Mahabali, they approached Mahavishnu claiming that Mahabali is now equivalent to an Indra. Since a world with two Indras represents imbalance, Mahavishnu assumed the form of a dwarf: the Vamana avatara had tricked him to Pathalam, the Underworld. However, as Mahabali is equal to an Indra, he is to wait until the next Yuga where he would be the Indra. In the meantime, with the grace of Mahavishnu, Mahabali visits his people on an annual basis. Mahavishnu serves Mahabali as a gatekeeper in the world of Pathalam as the Lord himself serves his greatest devotees. Another enchanting feature of Onam is Vallamkali, the Snake Boat Race, held on the river Pampa. It is a colourful sight to watch the decorated boat oared by hundreds of boatmen amidst chanting of songs and cheering by spectators and viewers.There is also a tradition to play games, collectively called Onakalikal, on Onam. Men go in for rigorous sports like Talappanthukali (played with a ball), Ambeyyal (Archery), Kutukutu and combats called Kayyankali and Attakalam. Women indulge in cultural activities. They make intricately designed flower mats called, Pookalam in the front courtyard of the house to welcome King Mahabali. Kaikotti kali and Thumbi Thullal are two graceful dances performed by women on Onam. Folk performances like Kummatti kali and Pulikali add to the zest of celebrations.
The rich cultural heritage of Kerala comes out in its best form and spirit during the ten day long festival. The most impressive part of Onam celebration is the grand feast called Onasadya, prepared on Thiruonam. It is a nine course meal consisting of 11 to 13 essential dishes. Onasadya is served on banana leaves and people sit on a mat laid on the floor to have the meal.
Mahabali's rule is considered the golden era of Kerala. The following song is often sung over Onam:
|“||maveli nadu vaneedum kalam,|
amodhathode vasikkum kalam
kallavum illa chathiyumilla