Onam 2020: History, significance and all that you need to know about the harvest festival
Onam, a harvest festival that falls in the months of August/September annually, is celebrated across India and the world, and is main festival among Keralites. According to the Malayali calendar month of Chingam, the festival falls on the 22nd Nakshatra Thiruvonam, and marks the beginning of the Malayalam year, called Kolla Varsham.
The festival begins on the day known as Atham, and ends on the tenth day, known as Thiru Onam or Thiruvonam, also the most auspicious day during the festival of Onam. This year, the celebrations leading up to Onam will begin Saturday, August 22 onwards and Thiruvonam will be celebrated on August 31.
Onam festival is celebrated to honour the kind-hearted and much-beloved demon King Mahabali, who is believed to return to Kerala during this festival.
Significance of Onam celebrations
According to Vaishnava mythology, King Mahabali defeated the Gods and began ruling over all three worlds. King Mahabali was a demon king who belonged to the Asura tribe. The kind-hearted king was much-loved by the people. The Gods got insecure of King Mahabali’s popularity and Lord Vishnu to step in and help contain Mahabali.
Lord Vishnu took on his fifth avatar, in the form of the Brahmin dwarf Vamana, and paid a visit to King Mahabali. King Mahabali asked Vamana what he wished for, to which Vamana responded, “three pieces of land”. When Vamana was granted his wish, he grew in size and in his first and second pace respectively, he covered the sky, and then the netherworld.
When Lord Vishnu was about to take his third pace, King Mahabali offered his own head to the God. This act impressed Lord Vishnu so much that he granted Mahabali the right to visit his kingdom and people every year during Onam festivities.
Rituals of Onam
During the ten-day festivities, devotees bathe, offer prayers, wear traditional clothes -- women of the household wear a white and gold saree called the Kasavu saree - participate in dance performances, draw flower rangolis called pookkalam and cook traditional feasts called sadya. Sadya is served on banana leaves during Onam.
The 10-day festivities also see people participating in boat races called Vallam Kali, Tiger dances called Pulikali, worship the God or Onathappan, Tug of War, Thumbi Thullal or women’s dance ritual, Mask dance or Kummattikali, Onathallu or martial arts, Onavillu/music, Onapottan (costumes), folk songs among other fun activities.
The traditional feast
The traditional Onam sadya (feast) is a 9-course meal that consists of 26 dishes. It includes Kalan (a sweet potato and yam coconut curry dish), Olan (white gourd prepared in coconut curry), Avial (seasonal vegetables in coconut curry), Kootu curry (a dish made of chickpeas), rasam (a soup-like dish made with a base of tomato and pepper, eaten with rice and other preparations) and the much-loved dessert, Parippu payasam (a rice kheer preparation).
This year, however, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, people have been advised to celebrate Onam within their homes and use locally available flowers for the traditional floral carpet.