The Story of Onam

The Story of the Festival of Onam

It should be noted that the story has been adjusted to justify conquers who came into Kerala. The festival celebrates King Mahabali’s return to his kingdom in Kerala every year. He was very much loved by his people, and he had a fervent love for Lord Vishnu. However the “gods” became jealous and challenged him. Take the story with a grain of salt.

Chapter 1: The King of Kings
The beautiful state of Kerala was once ruled by an Asura (demon) king, Mahabali. The King was greatly respected in his kingdom and was considered to be wise, judicious and extremely generous (why was he told to be a “demon” king then?). It is said that Kerala witnessed its golden era in the reign of King Mahabali. Everybody was happy in the kingdom, there was no discrimination on the basis of caste or class. Rich and poor were equally treated. There was neither crime, nor corruption. People did not even lock their doors, as there were no thieves in that kingdom. There was no poverty, sorrow or disease in the reign of King Mahabali and everybody was happy and content. King Mahabali was an ardent worshiper of Lord Vishnu, and his bravery and strength of character earned him the title “Mahabali Chakravathy” (Mahabali – the King of Kings)

King Mahabali depicted in festivals all around Kerala today

Chapter 2: The Gods Devise a Challenge
Looking at the growing popularity and fame of King Mahabali, the gods became extremely concerned and jealous. They felt threatened about their own supremacy and began to think of a strategy to get rid of the dilemma.

To curb the growing reign of Mahabali and maintain their own supremacy, Aditi, (the mother of Gods) sought the help of Lord Vishnu (the preserver in the Hindu trinity) – who, remember, Mahabali worshiped.

It was said Mahabali was very generous and charitable. Whenever anybody approached him for help or requested for anything he always granted. To test the King, Lord Vishnu disguised himself as a dwarf and a poor Brahmin called Vamana. He came to the Kingdom of Mahabali, just after Mahabali performed his morning prayers and was preparing to grant requests to Brahmins.

The innocent dwarf Vamana – really Lord Vishnu

Chapter 3: Defeated by his own Generosity
Disguised as Vamana, Vishnu said he was a poor Brahmin and asked for a piece of land. The generous King said, he could have as much land as he wanted. The Brahmin said that he just wanted as much land as could be covered by his three steps. The King was surprised. Why would such a small man come for three steps of land, to a King who could actually give him anything he wanted? Much perplexed, he still agreed.

A learned adviser of the King, Shukracharya sensed that Vamana was not an ordinary person and warned the King against making the promise. But, the generous King replied that it would be a sin for a King to back on his words and asked the dwarf Brahmin to take the land.

Just as King Mahabali agreed to grant the land, the small dwarf Vamana began to expand and eventually increased himself to a size of cosmic proportions. With his first step the Brahmin boy covered the earth and with the second step he covered the skies. He then asked King Mahabali where to keep his third foot.

The King realized that he was no ordinary Brahmin and his third step would destroy the earth. Mahabali with folded hands bowed before Vamana and asked him to place his last step on his head so that he could keep his promise of three steps. The Brahmin placed his foot on the head of the King, which pushed him to patala (the underworld).

There the King requested the Brahmin to reveal his true identity. Lord Vishnu then appeared before the King. The Lord told the King that he came to test him and the King won the test. King Mahabali was pleased to see his lord and Lord Vishnu granted a boon to the King.

Lord Vishnu takes three steps: one on the earth, one on the sky and one on King Mahabali’s head

Chapter 4: King Mahabali’s Last Wish
The King was so much attached with his Kingdom and people that he requested that he be allowed to visit Kerala once in a year. Lord Vishnu was moved by the Kings nobility and was pleased to grant him the wish. He also blessed the King and said even after losing all his worldly possessions, the King would always be loved by Lord Vishnu and his people.

King Mahabali is depicted in the flower decorations of Onam

The Onam Festival Today:
The festival is celebrated as a tribute to the sacrifice of King Mahabali. Every year people make elaborate preparations to welcome their King whom they affectionately call Onathappan. They wish to please the spirit of their King by depicting that his people are happy and wish him well. The second day, Thiruvonam, is the biggest and the most important day of this festival. It is believed that King Mahabali visits his people on the second day.

2 Responses to “The Story of Onam”
  1. nishant says:

    this was wonderful

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