Onam: The Regional Festival of Kerala: Myths Behind It

Though the inception of Onam is associated with Hindu mythology, Onam is celebrated among all communities throughout Kerala. A ten day break for schools and four or five off days for offices, it is the time for kids to go visit the ancestral homes and have fun with their families. Once the Onam season arrives, you find girls in traditional Kerala saree and guys in dhotis celebrating the spirits.

10 days of the month Chingam

Onam festival lasts for ten days in the month of Chingam (the first month according to Malayalam calendar) and the major celebrations occur on the last three days particularly on the tenth day of Thiruvonam. The month arrives after a torrents of rain and the nature bountiful would be delivering the harvest of the season. Flowers spring up and dragonflies soar in the clear sky and the lush greenery of Kerala celebrates with us the Onam season.

The Myth Behind Onam


A painting of Mahabali commissioned by Marthandavarma, King of Travancore

The myth of Onam goes so: There was an asura King called Mahabali who ruled Kerala. During his rule, there was health, honesty, peace and prosperity throughout the country. But the strength of Mahabali grew so much that the devas got worried and they asked the help of Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu incarnated as his fifth avatar, Vaman a poor Brahmin boy. One day Vaman went and asked Mahabali three feet of land. The benevolent king obliged. But tricky Vaman grew so big that he could take the whole earth with one feet and the heavens with another. Vaman asked for the third feet. Helplessly, Mahabali told Vaman to place his feet on his head. Thus the just King Mahabli was sent down to the underground Patala. But Vaman did give Mahabali one boon. Every year on Thiruvonam day of Chingam month, he can come and visit the people.

What is Special On This Day

On this day, every household would make a floral carpet called pookalam in their front yard. There would be special vegetarian food called ‘Onasadya’ served on banana leaves with over twenty curries and payasam. Onam would be the season of different types of small scale sports and arts items like tug of war, Thiruvathira, thumbi tullal, kaikottikkali, Onappaattu etc.

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Onam is not just a festival- it is the memoir of a platonic age when there was purity, integrity and goodness among humans. It is the time for friends and family to celebrate their unity without the boundaries of religion or caste.



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