Onam is an important festival of the people of Kerala. It usually comes off in the month of August or September. Men, women and children of Kerala eagerly look forward to this festival. It is celebrated for four days all over Kerala with great pomp and show, zeal and gusto. It is an occasion for utmost gaiety, festivity and revelry. With the advent of Onam, the atmosphere in Kerala is surcharged with dance and drama, song and music, games and sports of all kinds. It is a festival of joy for the people of Kerala.
Onam festival is connected with the legend of King Mahabali who ruled over Mahabalipurum in ancient times. The story goes that King Mahabali deeply loved his subjects. The people of Mahabalipurum were very happy and prosperous. They respected and adored the King like a god of heaven. The respect and regard that the King enjoyed aroused the jealousy of the gods of heaven. They made a plan to dethrone King Mahabali. They sent Vishnu to the King in the guise of a Brahmin boy named Vamin. Vamin appeared in the court of the king and made a request for a piece of land which could be covered by his three small steps. He required that land for purpose of meditation. The king readily agreed to grant his request for such a small piece of land. As soon as the king agreed, Vamin appeared in his true colors and covered the whole area of the earth and heaven in just two steps. There was no space left for the third step. King Mahabali bent his head for the third step to be taken on it. There was no place left either on the earth or in heaven for the king to live. He was, however, permitted to find a dwelling in the under-world. After getting the permission to live in the underworld, Mahabali requested Lord Vishnu to allow him to visit his Kingdom once a year to see his subjects. This request of the King was granted by Vishnu. Onam festival is celebrated to commemorate the day when the King comes to see his subjects.
The Onam festival continues for four days. During these days, young maidens of Kerala take a bath, put on beautiful clothes and go out to pluck flowers. With these flowers, they prepare Rangoli for the reception of the King. The statues of King Mahabali and Lord Vishnu are set up. Lamps are lighted, incense is burnt and prayer and worship are offered. On the last day of Onam, Rangoli is immersed in the water of a river or sea.
Onam is the greatest festival of joy and gaiety in Kerala. On this occasion, Kathakali and other famous dances are arranged. Young maidens of Kerala are wrapped in white saris. They decorate their black and beautiful hair with garlands of flowers. They sing sweet songs, make sweet music and perform beautiful dances. Gods are taken in procession on tastefully decorated elephants. The procession is accompanied by the beating of drums, sounding of trumpets and performances of dance and music. It is really a fascinating spectacle.
Boat races are another attractive feature of the festival. It is a very thrilling and exciting water-sport. The boats which participate in the race are beautifully decorated. From a distance, they look like the bed of Lord Vishnu with the hood of the serpent Sheshnag on one end, its tail on the other. Boats are adorned with flags, buntings, flowers, leaves and blossoms. The boatmen sitting in them row them ahead with great agility and eagerness. Boating competitions are a very thrilling aspect of the festival. Children shoot arrows with the bows. It is a rare delight for them.
Onam comes once a year, but it brings a bundle of joys for the people of Kerala.
– Paridhi Khanna