Onam is the time in Kerala that is marked by exchanging pleasantries among friends and kin. They enjoy feasts and sports. Sport competitions are arranged to signify the big day and stress the imperative need to live like brothers and sisters and in perfect harmony and to share each other’s joys and accomplishments as also to share the sorrows to minimise their effect.
This is also the time of harvesting. Farmers are joyous as they get ready to reap their crops. The rains have abated and the sky is free of clouds.
According to belief, the festival is all about King Mahabali, who, like Lord Rama, was very popular with his subjects and worked with a missionary zeal for their welfare. Like Rama Rajya, in Mahabali’s regime, there were no dacoities, no atrocities, murders et al.
Legend has it that Dev Raj Indra, envious of the king, hatched a plan to show him his potential, as it were. He sought the help of Maha Vishnu and visited Mahabali as a Brahmin to grant him a piece of land to measure up to three steps. Brahmins were held in high esteem in those days and nobody was prepared to earn the displeasure of a Brahmin. The devil in Dev Raj Indra at once covered the entire place and pretended the whole of it was covered in just two steps and sought to know where should he put his third step. In obedience, he offered his head; and was pushed into the 'patal lok.'
Mahabali then asked for a boon to be granted to him. Out of sheer love and regard for the people, he wanted that he be granted permission to visit his subjects once in a year.
It is said that on the day of Onam every year King Mahabali visits his people to bestow his benevolence. Onam comes, therefore, as a reminder that one should be good to one and all and fulfill the real purpose of life.