Onam, the harvest festival, is celebrated with great zeal and enthusiasm in Kerala. Falls on the Malayalam month of Chingam, Onam is celebrated for ten days when the state witness lot of celebrations and festivities including boat race, various traditional folk dance forms, Onappookkalam and special offerings in temples. The festivity which commences on the day of Atham continues till the culmination of the festival. As with any other festivities, Onam too has lot of legends associated with it as the prominent being the one regarding its own origin. The story of King Mahabali who ruled the state during ancient times and the legend that the festival is celebrated to commemorate his homemaking is the one on which the entire festival of Onam is based. There are other legends related to Onam such as the one of a Palliodam and vanishing boy which stresses the importance of helping the needy and poor during the auspicious festival. Read on to know more about the various interesting legends associated with Onam.
King Mahabali's Homecoming
A legendary (demon) King, Mahabali ruled Kerala during ancient times. The people of Kerala led a peaceful and prosperous life under Mahabali that they hardly had any sorrow, disease or premature deaths under his reign. However, Lord Indra, king of Devas grew jealous of the demon king's rising popularity as he feared that Mahabali would grew equivalent to him in power. Thus, Devas approached Lord Vishnu with a request to end his rule. Aware of Mahabali's benevolent nature, Lord Vishnu disguised himself as Vamana, a dwarf Brahmin, approached the King and requested three steps of land. Then, Vamana increased his size to a cosmic proportion and covered the entire earth in one step and the entire heaven in the second step. When he sought for a place to keep his third step, King Mahabali offered his head to Vamana who pushed him to netherworld. However, impressed by Mahabali's benevolence, Lord Vamana granted a boon allowing him to visit Kerala and his subjects once in a year. Onam marks King Mahabali's homecoming to his earthly kingdom.
As per this story, once upon a time, a group of people were travelling in a Palliodam (snake boat) which was laden with food. Suddenly, the boat got stuck in a narrow curve of the river and however hard the oarsman tried, he could not move the boat. He asked the help of a Bhattathiripad (a surname in Kerala among the Kerala Brahmins) who was in the same boat to go back to the river bank and get some help. When Bhattathiripad saw a hut near the river, he approached the hut where he saw a poor widow and her children, crying due to hunger. Bhattathiripad grew sad seeing the plight, went back to the boat and bought food for them. The moment they were fed, the boat moved easily. Since then, it has been a tradition of Onam to feed the poor and hungry.
In ancient times there was a Nambudiri Brahmin family by the name, Katoor Mana. One day, the head of the family, after taking bath in River Pampa near Aranmula in Kerala, was waiting to feed a poor man as was the custom. In the meantime, he started offering prayers to Lord Vishnu when he saw a poor boy standing in front of him. Seeing the boy in rags, he gave him a bath, dressed him and fed him. After eating, the boy disappeared and was nowhere to be seen. Afterwards, when the head of the family visited the famous Aranmula temple, he spotted the boy there though he disappeared again. It was then that he realized that the boy was none other than the god. Since then, it has been a custom for Nambudiri Brahmins to offer food to the deity of Aranmula temple during Onam every year.
There are many legends associated with Onam celebration. This article gives an idea of a few Onam legends.