The festivity is not only confined to the variety of food and desserts offered as the spirit of Onam is also celebrated in the form of sports, and the famous Vallamkali boat race in the rivers and coastal waters of Kerala.
Onam 2021: Onam festivities begin worldwide through virtual mode! The 10-day long Onam festival which celebrates the return of King Mahabali and the onset of the harvest season across the Kerala state has begun from August 12 this year. However, the mega festivities associated with Onam will begin only from Thiruvonam on Saturday, August 21. While the festival primarily traces its roots to the southern state of Kerala, the festival has come to be celebrated in most parts of the country and the world where there is a considerable number of Malayalis. The festival over the centuries has reserved a special corner in the hearts of all Malayalis regardless of their religion and community as all Keralites welcome the arrival of King Mahabali and harvest season with vigour and enthusiasm. As per the Malayalam calendar, the festival is celebrated in the month of Chingam on the day of Thiruvonam nakshatram.
Date, History, Significance of Onam festival
The mythological interpretation across the years has been that King Mahabali was a deeply kind and generous ruler whose rule is considered to be the golden era in the history of Keralites. Frustrated with the winning streak of King Mahabali, the story goes that the ‘Devas’ sought help from Lord Vishnu who took the form of Vamana.
Taking the dwarf form of Vamana, it is believed that Lord Vishnu asked the mighty King Mahabali to grant him three wishes. The belief is that Vamana requested King Mahabali for land that measures three feet. King Mahabali readily agreed only to realise later that Vamana’s form suddenly grew to encompass the whole estate of Mahabali in just two steps and the third step could not be placed. True to his word, the righteous King Mahabali offered his head as surrender. Moved by the righteousness of his act, it is believed that Lord Vishnu allowed Mahabali’s last wish which was to return to earth once in a year for a period of 10 days to visit his people and to see how happy and prosperous the people of his land are. The same 10-day period is therefore celebrated as the arrival of King Mahabali in the midst of his loving Malayali subjects.
The Onam festival has over the centuries been celebrated by all communities of Kerala. The arrival of harvest also coincides with the Onam festival in the state of Kerala further secularising the festival for all the communities.
Grandeur of Onam festival: Why Onam is not a religious festival
Arguably the biggest festival for the Keralites in the entire year, the festival is celebrated in a grand and exuberant manner. Grand feasts which are called ‘onasadya’ consisting of mouth watering dishes are cooked enthusiastically on this day to welcome King Mahabali in every house. Around 15 varied food items are cooked as part of the Onasadya feast and offered on banana leaves with a rich variety of pickles and papad. A typical dessert called ‘payasam’ made of rice, milk, sugar and coconut is mandated to be the most indispensable part of the Onasadya feast.
The festivity is not only confined to the variety of food and desserts offered as the spirit of Onam is also celebrated in the form of sports, and the famous Vallamkali boat race in the rivers and coastal waters of Kerala. Hundreds of oarsmen partake in the Vallamkali race and put up a competitive fight to reach the finishing line in the shortest possible time. In addition to the essential Vallamkali race, a myriad of traditional dance, songs and games are organised during the festival to mark the return of King Mahabali and reassure him that his people are happy and prosperous. It is also believed that King Mahabali visits the house of all inhabitants in the state on the day of Thiruonam and all households leave no stone unturned in giving a grand reception to their beloved king by decorating their houses with flower carpets and cooking delicious dishes.
However, the pall of pandemic cast over the country since the last one and a half years has forced the celebrations to remain muted. Even last year the grand festival was celebrated at a small scale in the state due to the fear of the spread of the pandemic. Worldwide, Keralites are taking to social media to celebrate Onam from home and sharing sadya pics to highlight the special occasion they are celebrating.