Aside from festivals that are celebrated across India, there are others which are limited to a tribe, community, village, district or state. These festivals are not celebrated across India but are limited to a niche, and the people connected to that faith.
Wherever they may be, they shall also celebrate the festival on the date decided. One such festival is Onam, which is celebrated by Malayalees who ring in the festival every year with great pomp and show.
It marks the return of Mahabali who descends on earth and visits every house to see the people of his kingdom. Onam falls in the month of Chingam, and is the harvest festival celebrated in the state. It starts from the Nakshatra day Atham, which is Hasta Nakshatra and ends on Thiruvonam, that is, Shravana Nakshatra.
The celebration continues for 10 days, beginning with Attham and ending up with Thiruvonam. The public holidays are declared four days before the festival, which is on the day of Uthradom.
History associated with Onam
There are two stories associated with the celebration of the festival.
Lord Vamana and Bali Maharaj
Maharaja Bali is a great authority in the line of spirituality. Out of the 9 items of devotional service, his example is given in complete surrender (sarvatmasapane hi balih). Maharaja Bali was the grandson of Prahlada Maharaj, the great devotee of Lord Krishna. After conquering all the heavenly planets, Bali Maharaja became the king of the three worlds. Seeing her demigod sons in distress, their mother Aditi prayed to her husband to tell her a way to relieve her sons to which he asked him to worship Lord Janardana and ask him for blessings. The lord was pleased and he blessed her to appear as their son. When the lord appeared as their son, he assumed the form of Vamana (dwarf) and went to the sacrificial arena of Bali Maharaja and spoke to him in the following words.
tasmat tvatto mahim ishad
vrine aham varadarshabhat
padani trini daityendra
sammitani pada mama
O King of the Daityas, from Your Majesty, who come from such a noble family and who are able to give charity munificently, I ask only three paces of land, to the measurement of my steps. (Srimad Bhagwatam 8.19.16)
Agreeing to bless him with land measured by the three paces of Lord Vamana, the Lord expanded himself and measured the entire universe in 2 paces. On asking him for the third pace, his wife asked him to give his body in the third pace. Pleased with the surrender of Bali Maharaja, Lord Vamanadev asked him to go to Sutala loka and told him that since he desired nothing from the lord, the lord shall give himself to him and will serve him as his gatekeeper, giving him all protection.
Lord Parashurama and the Kshatriya fight
Lord Parashuram is the shaktyavesha incarnation of Lord Krishna and he appeared on this earth in order to annihilate the impious Kshatriya race. Once a king stole a cow from his ashrama and when he came to know about it, Lord Parashuram engaged into a fight with him and after killing him, threw his axe in the air. As soon as the axe landed, the sea retreated and the land of Kerala was created.
The festival of Onam is in itself a great celebration. The celebration comprises of boat races, tiger dances, flower arrangement, worship, tug of war, women’s dance, mask dance, martial arts, music, plantain offerings, costumes, folk songs, dance and other celebrations.
During the festivity, the people buy new clothes, decorate their houses with numerous flower arrangements and decorate their altar very nicely. The deity of Lord Vamanadev is installed and worshipped for 10 days with traditional Malayali paraphernalia and offerings are prepared for him which is then honoured as a feast prasadam.
The feast comprises of Banana chips, Sharkara veratti , Pappadam, Injipuli, Thoran, Mezhukkupuratti, Kaalan, Olan, Avial, Sambhar, Dal served along with a small quantity of ghee, Erisheri, Molosyam, Rasam, Kichadi and Pachadi, Moru, Pickles both sweet and sour, buttermilk, coconut chutney. The feast ends with a series of dessert called Payasam.
The dance troops of Kathakali arrange various dancing programmes where they display the traditional heritage of their culture. There is organisation of huge boat races where thousands of people row a boat and tiger dances, where people dress themselves as tigers and dance.
The two days following Thiruvonam are also celebrated which marks the ascension of Bali Maharaja to heaven and the deities of Lord Vamandeva are immersed into the sea and the decorations are cleaned.
Puja Timings for Onam
The timings for puja for Onam are from 06:38 AM on 24th August 2018 to 09:49 AM on 25th August 2018. These are the timings when the Thiruvonam Nakshatra prevails.