Onam is one the most anticipated festivals celebrated with much fanfare and merriment by the people in Kerala, irrespective of one’s caste or creed.
Usually coinciding with crop harvests in the region, the story behind how the festival came into being goes all the way back to Vedic and Puranic ages.
The mythical King Mahabali, considered to be one of the greatest kings to have ever ruled Kerala, is believed to ascend to Earth from the netherworld to meet his subjects once every year.
It is his homecoming that is celebrated as the festival of Onam, as we know it today.
The king remains quite popular in Kerala even to this day, as testified by the folk song, Maaveli Naadu Vannidum Kaalam (When Maveli, our King, ruled the land), that speaks of his reign being one where all were equal.
According to the traditional legend, the king’s growing popularity amidst the common people became a rising concern for the jealous gods, Indra in particular.
According to Hindu beliefs, when a king or an emperor has a considerable number of fair and just deeds to his credit, he has the power to dethrone even Indra, who is the god of the gods.
Threatened by Mahabali’s rising greatness, they decided to hatch a scheme against the king and rope in the supreme god Vishnu.
Taking the form of a poor Brahmin monk named Vamana, Vishnu approached the king and asked to be granted a boon. Mahabali, who was known for his altruistic qualities, readily agreed to the monk’s request.