Monday, August 27, 2007


Happy Onam to all my fellow mallus! Above is the pookalam that we made at home today. Do pardon the stark simplicity - attributed to lack of more types of flowers, and well, creativity! My neighbours, Abhishek and Abhilasha, however, brought about a gem : absolutely fantastic.

A friend recently asked me the story behind Onam, and I gave a really vague story, much to his disappointment and confusion, I think. :) Which is why I have now researched the details, and will present the details for his benefit..and others. Here goes.

The story goes that Kerala was ruled by an Asura (demon) king, Mahabali. The King was greatly respected in his kingdom and was considered to be wise, judicious and extremely generous. It is said that Kerala witnessed its golden era in the reign of King Mahabali. It was the peak of its prosperity - everybody was happy and content.

Now seeing his fame as such a great king and leader, the gods upstairs started feeling a tinge of insecurity, so to speak. They felt challenged by his growing powers and felt the need to curb it. So Aditi, the mother of the Devas, pleaded with Lord Vishnu to do something about it. Persuaded, Lord Vishnu took the diminutive form of Vamana, a brahmin kid.

Thus disguised, Vishnu went to the king and said he was a poor Brahmin and asked for a piece of land. The King, generous as he was, told him he could have as much land as he wanted. The Brahmin said that he just wanted as much land as could be covered by three steps of his. The King was surprised to hear this but agreed.

A learned adviser of the King, Shukracharya sensed that Vamana was not an ordinary person and warned the King against making the promise. The King replied that it would be a sin for a King to back on his words and asked the Brahmin to take the land. The King could not imagine that the dwarf Brahmin was Lord Vishnu himself.

Just as King Mahabali agreed to grant the land, Vamana began to expand and eventually increased himself to the size of cosmic proportions. With his first step the Brahmin boy covered the whole of earth and with the other step he covered the whole of the skies. He then asked King Mahabali where is the space for him to keep his third foot.

The King realised that he was no ordinary Brahmin and his third step will destroy the earth. Mahabali with folded hands bowed before Vamana and asked him to place his last step on his head so that he could keep the promise. The Brahmin placed his foot on the head of the King, which pushed him to patala, the nether world. There the King requested the Brahmin to reveal his true identity. Lord Vishnu then appeared before the King in his person. Lord Vishnu also granted a boon to the King.

The King was so much attached with his Kingdom and people that he requested that he be allowed to visit Kerala once in a year. Lord Vishnu was moved by the Kings nobility and was pleased to grant the wish. He also blessed the King and said even after losing all his worldly possessions, the King would always be loved by Lord Vishnu and his people.

It is the day of the visit of King Mahabali to Kerala that is celebrated as Onam every year. The festival is celebrated as a tribute to the sacrifice of King Mahabali. Every year people make elaborate preparations to welcome their King whom they affectionately call Onathappan. They wish to please the spirit of their King by depicting that his people are happy and wish him well. The second day, Thiruvonam is the biggest and the most important day of this festival. It is believed that King Mahabali visits his people on the second day.

And there we have the story of Onam. It feels strange to depart from the seeming theme of atheism, if for a while atleast.. :) and then give you a story of the gods!