Onam 2019: Onam date, history and significance of Kerala’s harvest festival
The festival is celebrated to honour the much-beloved demon King Mahabali, who is believed to return to Kerala during Onam.Updated: Sep 11, 2019 10:19 IST
The harvest festival of Onam is celebrated across India and the world, and is majorly a festival for Keralites. The festival falls on the 22nd nakshatra Thiruvonam, in the Malayali calendar month of Chingam, and marks the beginning of the Malayalam calendar which is called Kolla Varsham.
The festival usually falls in the months of August and September, and is spread over ten days. The festival kicks off on the day known as Atham, and culminates on the tenth day, known as Thiru Onam or Thiruvonam, which is the most auspicious day during Onam. This year, Onam will be celebrated from September 1 onwards.
The festival is celebrated to honour the much-beloved demon King Mahabali, who is believed to return to Kerala during Onam.
Why is Onam celebrated?
Legend has it that Kerala was ruled by the demon King Mahabali of the Asura tribe and the kind-hearted king was much loved by the masses. The gods got very insecure by how popular Mahabali was and asked Lord Vishnu to help contain Mahabali.
This is when Lord Vishnu took on his fifth avatar,in the form of the Brahmin dwarf, Vamana and visited King Mahabali. When King Mahabali inquired what Vamana wished for, he was told – three paces of land. When he was granted this, Vamana grew in size and with the first pace he covered the sky, and with the second he covered the netherworld.
When it came to the third pace, King Mahabali offered his own head. This impressed Lord Vishnu very much, so he granted Mahabali the right to visit his people every year during Onam.
What are the rituals followed during Onam?
During the harvest festival, believers bathe, offer prayers, participate in dances and draw flower rangolis called pookkalam outside their doors. Traditional feasts called sadya are served on banana leaves on this day.
People also participate in 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), Onavillu (music), Kazhchakkula (plantain offerings), Onapottan (costumes), Atthachamayam (folk songs and dance), among other fun activities.
What does the traditional feast include?
The traditional Onam sadya is a feast that consists of 26 dishes and is served during Onam. Some of the traditional dishes include Kalan (sweet potato and yam coconut curry), Olan (white gourd in coconut curry), Avial (seasonal vegetables in coconut curry), Kootu curry (made with chickpeas), rasam and the much-loved traditional dessert, Parippu payasam.