Onam in the time of floods: How Kerala’s festival is a celebration of ‘perennial return’

According to legend, Onam celebrates the return of the demon King Mahabali and all festivities are preparations to welcome him.

By: Lifestyle Desk | New Delhi | Updated: August 25, 2018 10:46:24 am

onam, onam history, onam history, onam celebrations, onam kerala flood, onam date, indian express, indian express news Onam celebrates the return of the one who has lost his home and land.

One of the biggest festivals for Malayalis is just around the corner. The festival is celebrated with much fanfare and exuberance every year. This year, however, things are slightly different since Kerala suffered its worst flood in a century and hundreds lost their lives and homes. Thousands are still stranded in relief camps. At this moment, the festival of Onam, which celebrates comebacks, seems even more timely.

According to legend, Onam celebrates the return of the demon (asura) King Mahabali to Kerala. All the festivities during Onam are mainly preparations to welcome him. Mahabali was considered to be a very kind and generous ruler. In fact, the period during which he ruled over Kerala is often referred to as the Golden period.

Yet, for all his kindness, he was disliked by the gods and they sought Vishnu’s help in vanquishing Mahabali. Although Vishnu agreed to help, he was reluctant to do so since Mahabali was his ardent devotee. The myth goes that Vishnu took the form of a dwarf – what is referred to as the Vaamana avatar – and visited Mahabali and asked for three wishes. He asked that he be given a piece of land that measured “three paces”. Not suspecting foul play, Mahabali agreed.

The dwarf then grew in size and with his feet covering everything Mahabali ruled over by merely taking two steps. When it was time to take the third step, Mahabali bowed down and Vishnu placed his foot over the demon king’s head and sent him to the netherworld. By doing so, he ousted the king from his rightful position – but Vishnu was also impressed with Mahabali’s devotion. As a reward, he allowed Mahabali to return to his land once every year.

Onam thus celebrates the return of the one who has lost his home and land, making it all the more pertinent and relevant this year as the people of Kerala are striving towards recuperating from their loss. And are rebuilding their homes.

Journalist Tony Joseph shared this aspect to the legend of Onam in series of tweets. Echoing what Onam stands for, he wrote, “The floods this year will dampen the celebratory air, but not the spirit of the Malayali. After all, Onam is about a joyous comeback, a perennial return”.

Read his tweets here.

May the festival of Onam bring joy and prosperity to all.

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