One of the most prominent countries in terms of culture and ethnicities, India is known throughout the world for the zeal it displays during the festive seasons. A country where one can see the people belonging to almost all the religions, and where one can find a lot to learn in terms of languages, India is seen as an example for unity in diversity. And more so, in the festive season of monsoon around August - September when all the communities observe the festivals associated with their own as well as other communities with equal vigour.
In all the regions across the nation, the celebrations of one or the other festival are in full swing around this time. While the northern regions are celebrating the sacred month of Shravana, the Onam festival is observed with intense vigour and enthusiasm in the Southern parts, basically by the Malayali Hindus. In fact, it is the official state festival of Kerala. Every year, it is observed during the first week of Chingam month according to the Malayali calendar, and corresponds to the August-September according to the Gregorian Calendar. This year the festival of Onam will be observed on August 25, 2018.
For Kerala, this festival marks the beginning of a new year. More than a religious festival, it is a cultural festival, celebrating the harvest of the season. Behind the celebration of the festival, there is a story.
The Story Of Vaman And Mahabali
Mahabali, the great great grandson of Kashyap, once came to power by defeating the Gods. When the gods went to Lord Vishnu for help, he said he would not destroy Mahabali because he was a devotee. Besides this, he had a strong account of virtuous deeds in past. But Lord Vishnu said that he will test his devotion and decide on the matter.
Once Mahabali had organized a yajna in which he was to grant the wishes of all. Lord Vishnu, wanting to test the devotion of Mahabali took the form of a dwarf, named Vaman. When Vaman was asked his wish by Mahabali, he said he wanted a piece of land measuring up to three steps. Mahabali agreed to his wishes. But much to everybody's surprise, Vaman took a giant form and covered the whole of the kingdom of Mahabali. With the second step he covered the sky (Devaloka). Thus, the wish of the gods was fulfilled when Mahabali had lost the entire kingdom and all his powers.
For the third step, Mahabali then offered his own head to Lord Vishnu. And this was a proof for his devotion to Lord Vishnu. Pleased by this, he granted Mahabali the permission to visit his kingdom once each year. Thus, through this festival, Kerala celebrates the homecoming of their king.
The Legend Behind The Origin Of Kerala
According to yet another story, there was a king Kaartavirya who oppressed everybody, including the saints and sages as well. Lord Vishnu had incarnated as Parshuram to save the Earth from the atrocities of such kings. When once Parshuram was away and his mother Renuka was alone at home, with their cow and its calf, king Kaartavirya took away the calf. Enraged to hear this, when he came back, Parshuram straight away went there, challenged him to war and finally killed him. When he threw his axe after this, the sea retreated wherever the axe went, and the land of Kerala was thus formed. This day is celebrated as the new year by the people of Kerala until today.
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Though the celebrations and the preparations stretch over a period of around ten days, the main Onam festival is observed on one day. These ten days are given names as - Atham, Chithira, Chodhi, Vishakam, Anizham, Thriketa, Moolam, Pooradam, Uthradom and Thiruvonam. Vamanamoorthy Trikkakara temple in Kochi, Kerala, is the main place for festivities. Activities such as the boat race, known as Vallamkalli, and games known as Onakalikal are held during the festival period. Onasadya, the primary feast for the day, which comprises twenty-six dishes, adds tastes to the celebrations of the festival of Onam.