INDIAN FESTIVALS : A Festival of Joy-Onam in Kerala
By P. N. S.

Onam, the festival par excellence of Kerala falls on 2nd September 2009. For ten days not only Kerala but every home of every Malayalee anywhere in the world will be in the grip of excitement, gaiety, mirth and piety. Malayalees firmly believe that on the day of Onam, Emperor Mahabali visits the home of Malayalees to watch them in a state of happiness and joy.

Mahabali was a Lord whom his people loved. The descendents love him still. The rest of the world considered him to be imperious, ruthless and a terrible aggressor who had to be put down. Lord Mahavishnu therefore assumed the form of a brahmin lad and timed his approach to the Emperor when he would be in a generous mood. As it happened, Mahabali was engaged in performing a yagna with the aid of his preceptor Sukracharya. At a yagna it is customary for the yajaman to give gifts, especially to brahmins. When Vamana approached Mahabali , he welcomed him and invited him to ask for whatever he desired. Sukracharya, who had realized that Vamana was, in reality, Lord Vishnu, tried to restrain Mahabali. He, however, said that he would stand by his word.

The diminutive Brahmin boy merely asked for three measures of land, to be measured by his own steps. Mahabali then poured water signifying the grant of his wishes. Immediately, Vamana began to grow and assumed such dimensions that with only two strides he measured all that belonged to Mahabali. Vamana than asked for the third measure and having given everything he owned, Mahabali bent his head signifying that the third step can be on his own head. Though he had vanquished him, Lord Vishnu was pleased with the Dharmic attitude of Mahabali and sent him down to Patala to be its Lord. He also promised him the position of Indra of the cosmos after Pralaya.

Over and above these he asked him to seek one more boon. Mahabali said that he considered this day of his surrender to Him sacred and said that people should remember this day and engage themselves in festivities and joy and that he should be able to visit them on the day year after year. Onam has now become so popular that it is now celebrated as the State festival of Kerala. To any Keralite anywhere in the world Onam, however, is a time to rejoice, a time to be together, a time to be merry, a time to be generous and a time of prayer and thankfulness.

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