Onam 2019: Kerala celebrates harvest festival to mark return of generous demon king, banished by Lord Vishnu

FP Staff

Onam 2019: Primarily a harvest festival, Onam is one of the most important religious events for Malayali Hindus spread across various parts of India. However, the celebrations are observed in full vigour in the southern Indian state of Kerala. The 10-day-long festival is observed during the month of Chingam, the first month in the Malayalam calendar, Kollavarsham. The festival usually falls between the months of August and September each year. However, the duration and the dates of celebration slightly vary from year to year on the Gregorian Calendar.

This year, Onam celebrations started on 1 September and will be concluded on 13 September.

History/Significance:

Onam is celebrated to honour the homecoming of a mythical-demon king by the name of Mahabali. Though a demon, he was known for being generous and kind-hearted among the masses. When the gods very insecure and jealous of his popularity, they asked Lord Vishnu to help contain the demon king.

Lord Vishnu disguised himself as a dwarf and a poor Brahmin called Vamana to visit the kingdom of Mahabali. When inquired about his wishes, Vamana asked the king to grant him land covered by his three feet. Mahabali agreed to fulfill Vamana's desire without a second thought.

But, Vamana started to grow in size and his first feet covered the earth and with the second he covered the sky. With no place for the third feet, Mahabali requested Vamana to place the third feet on his head, thus, burying himself into Pathala. An impressed Vishnu granted Mahabali the right to visit his people and his kingdom every year during Onam.

Important Days during Onam:

The ten days are sequentially known as Atham, Chithira, Chodhi, Vishakam, Anizham, Thriketa, Moolam, Pooradam, Uthradam and Thiruvonam. Of these, four main days of festivities are observed on: 10 September (the first Onam or Uthraadam which honours the return of King Mahabali to Kerala); 11 September (Thiruvonam,  which marks the second day of King Mahabali's return where he pays a visit to the homes of all his people); 12 September (Avittam, when devotees will begin preparations for the departure of King Mahabali); and 13 September (the final day of Onam, when Mahabali retreats into Patal lok, the mythical underworld dominated by demon kings.)

How is Onam celebrated:

Those who celebrate the harvest festival bathe, offer prayers, participate in dances and draw flower rangolis called pookkalam outside their homes. With this, people also participate in fun activities like Vallam Kali (boat races), Pulikali (tiger dances), Onathappan (worship), Onam Kali (Tug of War), Thumbi Thullal (women's dance), Kummattikali (mask dance), Onathallu (martial arts) among others.

Traditional grand feast called 'Onam sadya' that consists of a variety of local dishes such as rice, sambar, rasam, Parippu payasam, etc, are served on banana leaves. It is a major highlight of this festival. 'Onam sadya' is served daily at Thrikkara Temple, throughout the 10-day-long celebration period, in Kerala where thousands of people relish the delicious meal.

Also See: Onam 2019: Amid threats of terror attacks and flood havoc, Kerala gears up to celebrate annual harvest festival

Onam 2019: A look at the dishes that go into the typical Malayali spread or Onam Sadhya

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