Onam festival

Onam festival
Onam festival

Onam festival is attributed to the star ‘Thiruvonam’ which is also known as ‘Sravana’. For the Year 2023, it occurs on Tuesday, 29th August 2023. This festival spans a period of ten days from Sunday, 20th August 2023 to Thursday, 31st August 2023.

Sri Mahabali

The festival is celebrated in the memory and invocation of Sri Mahabali who was the grandson of the ardent Sri Vishnu devotee, Sri Prahlada. Sri Mahabali was granted moksha by Sri Vamana Avathar of Sri Maha Vishnu.

The particulars of Sri Vamana Avathar are mentioned in Sri Agni Puran and Sri Vamana Puran.

Sri Vamana Avathar had happened as a sequel to Sri Narasimha Avathar. During Sri Narasimha Avathar, Sri Vishnu had destroyed the Asura Hiranya Kasipu. He also had killed Hiranyaksha, the brother of Hiranya Kasipu.

King Hiranya Kasipu had a son named Prahalad. The reason for the happening of Sri Narasimha Avathar is attributed to the simple belief and the faith the child reposed on Sri Vishnu.

After the demise of Hiranya Kasipu, Prahalada was made the King.


Mahabali was born in the lineage of Prahalada. Though born as an Asura, he was pious, good, kind and virtuous. He was considered as the emperor. He was liked and loved by his subjects.

Mahabali’s doubts

Sukracharya was the Guru of Asuras. Mahabali told him, “Devas are born to Atithi and Asuras are born to Tithi; Both Atithi and Tithi are wives of Sage Kashyap. Though both Devas and Asuras had come from the same lineage, how come Devas live happily and Asuras always live dangerously?

Acharya’s advice

Sukracharya said “Though Devas and Asuras are from the same lineage, Devas do not indulge in conquering other worlds; They do not try to dominate others; They live their lives in service of supreme God, the Brahmam.

However, Asuras always indulge in torturing others. They do not know what it means to live peacefully. That is why they are never happy”.

He further said, “Lord Indra is the head of Devas. Do you know how he became the head? He got the post by doing one hundred Ashwamedh Yagnas.

If you also perform such one hundred Ashwamedh Yagnas, you will also be bestowed with the title Indra.”

Mahabali’s efforts

On the advice of Vasishta, Jamadagni, Sukracharya and other Sages, Mahabali had successfully completed ninety-nine Ashwamedh Yagnas. It took so many years.  He was preparing for his hundredth Yagna.

Indra’s fear

Lord Indra came to know about Mahabali. He knew that Mahabali was a very pious and good person. He feared that, once Mahabali completed the hundredth Yagna, it will be quite dangerous for his Indra post.

Sri Maha Vishnu

Lord Indra went to Vishnu Lok. He worshipped Sri Maha Vishnu and told him his apprehensions. Sri Vishnu had promised him that he would look into the matter and take appropriate action.

Atithi’s penance

Meanwhile, Atithi, the wife of Sage Kashyap had done penance on Sri Vishnu. She sought the boon of begetting Sri Vishnu as her Son. The boon was already granted to her.

Sri Vamana Avathar

So, Vishnu born as son of Sage Kashyap and Atithi. The baby Vishnu was in dwarf form and fair. Sage Kashyap named him Vamana which means “small”.

Vamana got the thread ceremony done to Him at the age of five. He had learned Vedas and other holy scriptures from His father.

Hundredth Yagna

At that same time, Mahabali was making arrangements for the hundredth Yagna.

Vamana told his father ‘’If Mahabali succeeds in doing the 100th Yagna, my elder brother Indra will lose his post. I do not want my brother to lose. I wish to disrupt the yagna of Mahabali. Please show me the way”.

Kashyap’s lamentations

Kashyap said “Mahabali is good and perfect in each and every effort of his. You cannot find fault in his yagna procedure. It is impossible to stop the yagna”.

Vamana said “I have to anyway stop the yagna. Please show me the way.”

Kashyap said “Think calmly on the issue. You will find a solution on your own.”

Vamana’s visit

Vamana went to the place where Mahabali was making preparations for the 100th Yagna.

He told him,” I am Vamana. Sage Kashyap’s son. I have learned Vedas from my father. I need a place to do penance. It is enough if you donate me land equal to thrice my foot length.

Mahabali kindly said “That much of small space may not be enough for you. Please ask me whatever else also you want. I will be glad to help you.” But Vamana insisted on three feet land only.

Mahabali had consented to fulfill His wishes.

Sukracharya’s intervention

Sukracharya understood who Vamana was. He took Mahabali aside and told him, “Do you know who this Vamana is? He is actually Maha Vishnu. He is trying to disrupt your Yagna so that Indra can save his post. Be careful. Don’t promise him anything.”

Mahabali said, “If Sri Maha Vishnu Himself has come to me asking for daan of land, then I am the most blessed person in the universe. I have already promised Him to donate the land. I cannot back-track now.”

Saying so, he went to Sri Vamana.

Sukra’s efforts

Preparatory to giving daan, Mahabali had poured water from his kamandal to Sri Vamana. Sukracharya somehow wanted to prevent the daan. So he took the form of a huge bee and blocked the water flow from inside the kamandal.

Vamana’s actions

Vamana understood the reason behind the stop in the water flow. He took a dry grass and poked in the spout. The bee had lost its eye. In effect Sukracharya lost one of his eyes. So he left the kamandal.

Mahabali had poured the water in Vamana’s hand and finished the first ritual. Then he asked Vamana to show him the land in which he required three feet.


Vamana then took the huge viswaroop. He was large, majestic and magnificent. He took His first step and the entire earth got covered. Then His second step had covered the entire contents of Deva lok. He asked Mahabali as to where He had to keep the foot for the third step.

Onam festival
Onam festival

Mahabali kneeled before the Vishwaroop. He told “I have nothing left but only my head to offer to you.” He bowed to Sri Vishnu.

Sri Vamana had placed His foot on Mahabali’s head as the third step. Then Mahabali got down to Paatal lok.

As Mahaabali was good in all respects and a good bhakt, Sri Vishnu had given him a place in Vainkunth.


Appreciating his true devotion, Sri Maha Vishnu had granted the boon that Sri Mahabali could visit his kingdom once a year. It is believed that Sri Mahabali visits the kingdom in the Malayalam month of Chingam and the Onam festival is celebrated in commemoration of the event.

Bhagwan Parashu Ram

As per another legend, Onam festival is also ascribed to the creation of Kerala by Bhagwan Parashuram.

The incarnation of Sri Parashu Ram was taken by Sri Maha Vishnu for the destruction of evil forces and for the protection of good and pious people. There are few legends pertaining to Sri Parashu Ram. The emergence of Sri Parashu Ram is mentioned in Agni Puran and Vinayak Puran.


Sage Jamadhagni, one of the Saptha Rishis was married to Sri Renuka Devi. Bhagwan Maha Vishnu Himself was born to them as their Son. They named Him as Ram. Since Sage Jamadhagni was from the lineage of Sage Brihu, Ram was also called as Bhargava Ram.

Ram has learnt the Vedas and scriptures from His father. Though being a brahmin, Ram also had learnt use of war weapons.


One day, King Karthaveerya who had thousand hands and was ruling the three worlds was passing by the Ashram of Sage Jamadhagni. He was back from a hunting trip.

Seeing the Ashram, he visited it. He saluted the Sage and said that he would be leaving soon.

Sage’s hospitality

The Sage asked the King to have lunch there. The King said that he did not come alone and that he could not leave his troupe and have lunch only for himself. He also told the Sage that he did not want to unnecessarily burden the Sage with more guests.

The Sage assured him not to worry. He asked him to bring his people along to have lunch.


The Sage had the holy cow named Kamadhenu. It was originally from the cosmic ocean. It was blessed to produce food for any number of persons.

The Sage prayed to Kamadhenu to produce food for all the visitors. Kamadhenu had made the sumptuous meals ready for all.


Kaarthaveerya and his team members had all taken the delicious and sumptuous lunch. They were all very pleased.

Kaarthaveerya asked the Sage as to how he had managed to arrange for the food. The Sage told him about Kamadhenu.


Kaarthaveerya became greedy. He asked the Sage to give the Kamadhenu to him. The Sage told him that he had the rights to only maintain and utilize the cow and not for donating it.

Kaarthaveerya did not pay heed to the Sage’s explanations. He simply tried to usurp the cow.


From each of the hairs of Kamadhenu, lots of warriors had emerged and fought with Kaarthaveerya. He had to make a hasty retreat.

While all these were happening, Ram was not in the Ashram.

Ram’s return

On returning to the Ashram, Ram had learnt of the treachery of Kaarthaveerya. He took the blessings of His parents and did severe penance on Bhagwan Shiva.

Bhagwan Shiva was pleased with the penance and gave him the boon to destroy Kaarthaveerya. He also had presented him with an axe. In Sanskrit, axe is called as “Parashu”. From then onwards, Ram was called as “Sri Parashu Ram”.


Meanwhile, Kaarthaveerya was biding his time to attack the ashram again. He knew that he could not have the Kamadhenu. He atleast wanted to penalize the Sage Jamadhagni.

He went there when Sri Parashu Ram was absent. He killed the Sage Jamadhagni. When Sri Renuka Devi protested, he hit her also.

Sri Parashu Ram

Sri Parashu Ram had returned to the Ashram to find His father dead and His mother struggling with the last breadth. She told Him the events and passed away.

Sri Parashu Ram then reached Kaarthaveerya’s place, fought with him with the axe given by Bhagwan Shiva. During the fight, Sri Parashu Ram started throwing His axe. Wherever His axe fell, the sea started retreating and hill ranges have formed.

The land named Kerala rose out of the sea retreated land. The hill range later became the mountain range called western ghats.

The Onam festival is hence also celebrated to commemorate the creation of Kerala.

Harvest festival

Onam is also celebrated as the harvest as well as thanks giving festival. Onam celebrations include Vallam Kali  (boat races), Pulikali (tiger dances), Pookalam (flower arrangement), Onathappan (worship of Sri Onathappan), Onam Kali, Tug of War, Thumbi Thullal (women’s dance), Kummattikali  (mask dance), Onathallu (martial arts), Onavillu  (music), Kazhchakkula (plantain offerings), Onapottan (costumes), Atthachamayam (folk songs and dance) and other celebrations.

Onam is celebrated for a period of ten days sequentially known as Atham, Chithira, Chodhi, Vishakam, Anizham, Thriketa, Moolam, Pooradam, Uthradom and Thiruvonam.

The Atham day is marked with the beginning of the festivities at Sri Vamanamoorthy temple at Kochi.  This is the focal center of Onam and the abode of Mahabali, with the raising of the festival flag.

Other days have diverse celebrations and activities ranging from boat races, cultural programs, sports competitions, dance events, martial arts, floral designs – pookkalam, prayers, shopping, donating food for charity to spending time with family over feasts and people adorn traditional attires.

For the Onam festival, the special feast named onam sadhya is prepared and served which is partaken with family and friends.  The making of rangoli with flowers called as Pookalam is also a predominant feature of Onam festivities.

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