The legend of Onam, Kerala's State Festival

The legend of Onam, Kerala's State Festival

One thinks of Onam as just another Hindu harvest celebration. Like every other prominent Indian festival, this one too, is rooted deeply in ancient mythology. Read on this interesting version of the story to tell your kids why they celebrate Onam!

Prahlada, a renowned devotee of Lord Vishnu, taught his grandson Mahabali to keep faith in the Lord. As his love for Vishnu grew, so did his power over all realms, at both heaven and earth. He had his guru-Shukracharya-to thank.
But with the splendid conduct he maintained, came praise and respect from the subjects and his courtiers. As a king, he was given to believe that he was supreme and took pride in granting anything to anyone, whatever they'd ask for. It was at this time that the gods felt insecure that he may have greater following than them. Lord Vishnu himself, then decided to reinforce the almighty's higher position before Mahabali. The Lord was therefore, born as the Brahmin Vamana to Aditi, the mother of Devas.

A few years later, on the advice of his guru, Mahabali decided to perform the Aswamedha Yagna. The purpose was to further strengthen Mahabali over the realms. As the rituals went on, Mahabali declared that he'd grant anything that anyone would seek from him during this Yagna.

Taking advantage of the situation, Vamana went to visit Mahabali, and was greeted with gratitude and traditional honor. Mahabali then asked Vamana for the gift he desired. The Lord smiled, and said, “I do not wish to ask for anything great, only the amount of land equivalent to three paces of my feet'.

Shukracharya was stunned, as he perceived immediately that this was no ordinary Brahmin but Lord Vishnu himself. He warned Mahabali not to grant anything and everything that the Lord asks for as he had come with a larger intention of capsizing his powers forever. Shukracharya's advice however, fell on deaf ears and the king insisted on not going back on his word, feeling fortunate and glad to having had this opportunity to be able to grant something to the Lord, who gives everything to mankind. He begged the pardon of Shukracharya's, and resumed the promise to Vamana.


The Brahmin grew in size until he towered above the heavens. His one footstep measured all of the earth. Another claimed the heavens. As there was no place left, Mahabali offered his own head to be the base of Vamana's third step. As this happened, Mahabali was sent down to rule the heaven, thus ending his rule on earth. As he sought in his last wish, he was granted the permission to visit his subjects once in a year, so that he could see them happy.

It is still believed that Mahabali comes to visit his kingdom, to make sure that his people are still living happily. It is in his honor, and for his love, Onam is celebrated by people of all faith and religion in Kerala. The rule of Mahabali is considered as the golden era of Kerala. The mythology is said to be told in a way which reminds the people of an ideal ruler. Mahabali's welfare state is said to be an utopian one wherein there were low crime rates, less child mortality, and unanimous secularism. It is at this time of the year, that everyone unites to celebrate the good old era with joy and verve. Every Malayali believes that whatever state of life/mind one may be in, he/she must be 'happy' for Onam as King Mahabali could see them.

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