The Festival Onam is one of the greatest festivals of Kerala. It is celebrated in the month of 'Chingam' (usually ending of August and beginning of September) according to Malayalee Hindu calender. Even thou Onam is a Hindu festival, nowadays it has become a festival of the entire state.
King Mahabali was a devout worshipper of Lord Vishnu. He was sincere, honest, just and a good ruler. But he had one weakness- ego. And to eradicate his pride and redeem his beloved devotee of this one sin, Vishnu came to earth in the form of a dwarf Brahmin named Vamana.
The king in his pride asked the Brahmin what he wanted for he could give anything. Vamana asked for three paces of land and the king agreed. To humble him Vishnu, as Vamana avatar showed Mahabali that he is just a puny creature in front of God's universal stature. Mahabali, who was a man of principles, realized God's purpose and offered his head for Vamana's footstep, as he was sent to another world. This fatal step proved a blessing in disguise for the good king the foot salvaged and released him from the recurrent cycle of birth and death.
That is why Onam is celebrated by wearing new clothes and resolving to lead a new life of truth, piety, love, and humility. Vamana taught King Bali that arrogance and pride should be abandoned if any advancement in life is to be made, and that wealth should never be taken for granted since it can so easily be taken away. Vamana then took on the form of Mahavishnu. He was pleased by King Bali's determination and ability to keep his promise in the face of his spiritual master's curse and the prospect of losing all his wealth. Vishnu named the King Mahabali since he was a Mahatma (great soul). He allowed Mahabali to return to the spiritual sky to associate with Prahalada (the demoniac Hiranyashipu's pious son, also a descendant of the demon race) and other divine beings. Mahavishnu also declared that Mahabali would be able to rule the universe in the following yuga (age).
Bali is supposed to return every year to the land of his people, to ensure that they are prosperous. This is celebrated as the Onam festival in Kerala, where he is also called Maveli.
Onam is celebrated in the month of 'Chingam' (usually ending of August and beginning of September) according to Malayalee Hindu calender. After three months of heavy rains, the sky suddenly clears up for the harvest season. There is celebrations and joy around and people have their fresh harvests. This is the right time for any festival. For this reason Onam is celebrated for 10 days.
People put flower rangoli or decorations in front of their houses, to symbolically welcome the King Mahabali starting from Atham to Thiruvonam (They are dates of Malayalam calendar). The children and the youth join in the festivities and set about collecting flowers early morning for this decoration. This decoration is known as 'onapookalam'. On the day of Utradam, ninth day since the beginning of the festival, houses are well cleaned and decorated and gala feasts are arranged. Then the images of deities and cones made up of sticky clay painted red are placed there. They are known as 'Trikkakara Appan'. These images are adorned with lines tastefully drawn with rice flour mixed with water and then they are worshipped.
The next day is the main day of Onam known as Thiruvonam. People will wear new dresses. The ladies of the neighbourhood will perform a dance form known as 'Thiruvathira kali'. A grand vegetarian lunch knowb as Thiruvona sadya will be served that the whole family will have together. There is a saying in Malayalam that "Kanam Vittu Onam Unnanam" which means, "We should have the Thiruonam lunch even if we have to sell all our properties". That much importance to the lunch on the Thiruonam day.
At Aranmulla, where there is a temple dedicated to Lord Krishna and Arjuna, thousands of people gather on the banks of the river Pamba to witness the exciting Snake Boat races. Through out Kerala, sport events are organised as schools and colleges have a 10 day break.
Here is wishing all Malayalees a very happy and colorful Onam.
Maveli nadu vanidum kalam,
Amodathode vassikum kalam,
When Mahabali ruled the land
Everyone was equal
Happily they lived
Danger befell none