Onam 2021 Date: Onam, the 10-day long festival that celebrates the return of King Mahabali annually as well as the Vaman avatar of Lord Vishnu, will be celebrated from August 12 this year. But the actual festival, which is widely celebrated in Kerala, will start with Thiruvonam on August 21. Third day of Onam will be August 22 while the final day falls on August 23.
As per the Malayalam calendar, Onam is celebrated on the day of Thiruvonam nakshatram (Shravana asterism) in the month of Chingam.
History and significance
Despite being a demon, King Mahabali was known to be generous and kind, and his reign is regarded as the golden era in Kerala, which is why his ‘return’ is so widely celebrated. According to Vaishnava mythology, it is said that Mahabali came to power by defeating the gods and taking over the three worlds. Gods were unhappy with his popularity and asked for Lord Vishnu’s help in a battle against the demon king. Vishnu agreed to help but did not want to participate in a battle as Mahabali was his ardent devotee. Instead, to help other gods, he took the form of a poor dwarf Brahmin (his Vamana avatar from the Dasavatara) and visited Mahabali, asking the king to grant him three wishes. The Brahmin requested the property right over a piece of land that measures “three paces”, to which Mahabali agreed. The dwarf suddenly grew in size and covered everything Mahabali ruled over in just two steps. For the third step, Mahabali offered his head.
But impressed by Mahabali’s devotion and good deeds, Vishnu allowed him to return to earth once a year — it is this annual visit that is celebrated with much fanfare as Onam. It is also a rice harvest festival.
The preparations start 10 days ahead of the three prominent days. People make ‘flower mats’ known as Pookalam (a flower rangoli) in their courtyards.
Grand feasts are prepared on this occasion which is known as ‘onasadya’. It comprises 13 dishes. The food is served on banana leaves and commonly consists of rice along with different dishes, pickles and papads. A characteristic sweet dish called ‘payasam’ is a must during Onam. It is made of rice, milk, sugar and coconut.
Vallamkali or boat race is also common during Onam celebrations. The snake-shaped boats rowed by hundreds of oarsmen compete with each other. Owing to the pandemic, however, the celebrations this year are anticipated to be restricted.
Celebrations also include traditional dance, music and games that are collectively called Onakalikal. All this is done to show King Mahabali that his people are prosperous and happy.