Onam, the celebration of King Mahabali’s homecoming

Onam is one of the most beautiful festivals in India. It originated in the state of Kerala and is the state’s annual harvest festival. Onam marks the return of King Mahabali back to his home. Every year the whole country celebrates Onam in the months of August and September. In this year 2021, Onam will be celebrated from the 12th of August to the 23rd of August.


Origin and history of Onam

There are various pieces of evidence regarding the celebration of Onam. The most popular one out of those shreds of evidence is the festival’s mentioning in a Sangam era Tamil poem. The poem suggests that the festival Onam was once celebrated in the ancient temples of Madurai.


The significance behind the celebration of Onam

The festival of Onam draws significance from the story of King Mahabali. King Mahabali’s story co-relates with the mythology of Prahlada. Just like his grandfather Prahlada, King Mahabali was also a great devotee and worshipper of the almighty Lord Vishnu.

King Mahabali gained power over the three worlds by defeating all the gods. Ancient mythology suggests that the gods then reached out to Lord Vishnu in order to seek help. However, Lord Vishnu denied their request and disagreed to join the gods in their fight against King Mahabali. Moreover, when it came to ruling his empires, King Mahabali was a great ruler and an even greater devotee of Lord Vishnu.

The tale of King Mahabali and Vamana

After gaining triumph over the gods, Mahabali decided to arrange a Yajna where he agreed to fulfill any request made by any citizen. Lord Vishnu took this opportunity and turned to his fifth avatar of a dwarf monk named Vamana. When King Mahabali offered him all the riches and gold, Vamana denied those offerings and instead asked for just three pieces of land. When Mahabali agreed to this request, Vamana grew into an enormous giant and stepped on the entire territory under the King’s rule in two steps. After discovering Vamana’s true identity, King Mahabali offered his head for the third step.

This action proved his devotion towards Lord Vishnu due to which he was granted the opportunity to revisit his kingdom once every year. This homecoming of King Mahabali to his kingdom and his people is celebrated every year in the form of Onam. The very last day of the King’s visit is celebrated by an Onasadya feast.


Celebration of the festival in Kerala

Onam marks the beginning of the Malayalam New year. The people celebrate this festival in the month of Chingam, which is the first month in the Malayalam calendar. The Onam celebrations last for ten days which are:

  • Atham
  • Chithira
  • Chodhi
  • Vishakam
  • Anizham
  • Thriketa
  • Moolam
  • Pooradam
  • Uthradam
  • Thiruvonam


On the first day of the festival, Atham begins with celebrations at the Vamanamoorthy Thrikkakara Temple in Kochi. On this day, the people of Kerala hold a parade called Athachamayam all over the state. The complete sight is a treat to the eyes due to its colorful beauty and display of the culture with floats and tableaux.

The rest of the days are also full packages of celebrations and festivities. Several events like boat races, cultural dance and music programs, sports competitions, display of martial arts, offering of prayers to the deities, making of floral rangoli known as Pookkalam, shopping for new clothes and ornaments, donation of food and charity, and spending time and feasting together with the family takes place in this span of 10 days. Every person of all age groups dresses up in traditional attires and enjoys themselves to the fullest.


Rituals following the 10 days of Onam

After the 10th day of Onam, the celebrations still continue for a day or two to some extent. The people celebrate the following two days as Third and Fourth Onam. The name of the third Onam is Avvittom. This day marks the arrangements for King Mahabali’s return back to the holy ground of heaven. On this day, the statue of Onathappan which is the depiction of Lord Vishnu as Vamana gets immersed into the rivers or seas, and the Pookkalam gets removed.

In conclusion to this article, it can be said that Onam is a colorful festival of joy and happiness that also holds a lot of significance to it. Every year, Kerala and the whole country look forward to this festival of immense jubilation and exuberance.

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