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Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019

Onam 2017: A guide to the history and significance of the festival

Onam (September 4) is a celebration of the sacrifice of the beloved King Mahabali who sacrificed his life to uphold his vow. Here are some facts about the festival.

art-and-culture Updated: Sep 04, 2017 09:00 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
Flower rangolis or pookkalam are part of Onam celebrations.
Flower rangolis or pookkalam are part of Onam celebrations. (HT file photo)

Every year, during the months of August-September, the festival of Onam is celebrated across Kerala and by Malyalees living across India; the diaspora also hosts elaborate celebrations in other countries such as the UAE and the USA. This harvest festival is one of the major annual festivals in Kerala and includes festivities such as boat races, tiger dances, elaborate flower arrangements and a mask dance. This year, it will be celebrated on September 4.

Boat races are part of Onam festivities.
Boat races are part of Onam festivities. ( Shutterstock )

Why do we celebrate Onam?

The story goes that the Asura king Mahabali ruled over Kerala and was much loved by the masses. His popularity made the gods insecure and they asked Lord Vishnu to help them contain Mahabali. Lord Vishnu took on the form of the dwarf Brahmin Vaman (the fifth avatar of Vishnu) and visited Mahabali. The king asked Vamana for his wish to which he asked for three paces of land.

Vamana then grew in stature and with his first step he covered the sky, with his second step the netherworld. For the final step, Mahabali offered his own head. Impressed by his piety, Vamana granted him a boon that he would be able to visit his people once a year, which is now marked as Onam.

What are the rituals followed during Onam?

On the auspicious day, devotees bathe, offer prayers and draw flower rangolis called ‘pookkalam’ outside their door. If you visit Kerala during this period, you can witness dancing, boat racing and traditional feasts served on banana leaves.

A traditional Onam feast.
A traditional Onam feast. ( Shutterstock )

What does the traditional feast include?

The Onam sadya (feast) served during Onam contains seasonal vegetables such as yam, cucumber, and gourd, banana chips, fried banana coated with jaggery, sambar, pickles and payasam.

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