If we go by the Malayalam calendar, the annual harvest festival of Kerala, Onam is celebrated for 10 long days. Started on the first of September, people of Kerala (Malayalis) began celebrations earlier this month, and the festival will conclude on 13 of September.
It is celebrated by Malayalis across the world as a cultural as well as a religious festival. The day pays homage to the homecoming of King Mahabali , Prahlada’s grandson.
For the duration of 10 whole days during which Malayalis celebrate Onam, certain dates are seen as more important. This year, the important days will fall on 10, 11, 12 and 13 September - they are meant to have a significant role in the overall celebrations.
Observed as First Onam or Uthraadam, September 10 celebrates the return of King Mahabali to Kerala. The day is celebrated with much pomp and show.
The second, September 11 is the day when King Mahabali returned and paid visit the homes of all the people living in Kerala. This second day is named Thiruvonam, which basically means ‘Sacred Onam Day’.
Avittam is the third important day of Onam, which is celebrated on September 12. This is the day when everyone is preparing for King Mahabali’s departure.
Chathayam is the fourth and final day of Onam, which will be celebrated on September 13, this year.
The festival of Onam is one of the most auspicious festivals for Malayalis and is celebrated with a lot of gusto in Kerala. People celebrate it by participating in some friendly snake boat races, tiger plays to Kumathikali and a couple of other activities. Malayalis also enjoy having elaborate feasts as well as flower decorations to celebrate it with lots of fervour.
It is believed that King Mahabali, who was also called Bali was a powerful Asura ruler. He was highly loved by his followers, but the Hindu god Vishnu’s followered felt that Bali was getting more popular than their own deity.
So Vishnu disguised himself as Vamana, a dwarf and then tricked Bali by asking him for a piece of land which he could cover in three strides. Bali, oblivious to the trick, accepted the request by a dwarf. Just then dwarf Vamana changed his shape and turned into a huge giant, with his first step covering the earth and the second taking him to heaven. With no place else to cover, Bali finally had to offer his head as the third step. That is when Vamana stepped on Bali’s head and pushed him down into the underworld. This is when Bali requested if he could return to Thiruvonam once every year (the second day of Onam) to pay a visit to his people and make sure they were doing well. Vamana agreed to this request.
In order to welcome Bali home annually once, people clean their homes, and prepare floral displays on the ground, replicating a carpet to warmly welcome Bali home. The Malayalis also perform Kathakali, which is a prominent classical Indian dance.