Onam is an annual Hindu festival that originated in the state of Kerala. A festival connected with the harvest, Onam falls in August or September, known as the month of Chingam in the Malayalam calendar.
Onam is said to mark the visit of Mahabali, an emperor who ruled over the region in ancient times. Mahabali was a benevolent king, and his people loved him. However, since he was so good, he never died – thus going against the law of nature.
Lord Vishnu had to restore nature’s balance. So, he appeared before Mahabali as a short Brahmin lad (known as ‘Vamana’), and asked to be given everything he covered within three steps. Mahabali agreed. The boy grew to a towering height, and covered the earth and sky in two steps. Mahabali bent down so that Lord Vishnu could place his foot on his head next. Pleased with his humility, Lord Vishnu granted him a boon: Mahabali would go to the land of the dead, but he could come back once every year to meet his beloved subjects.
Onam celebrations include the vallam kali (boat races) and puli kali (tiger dances), dances and martial arts displays. Houses are decorated with grand floral arrangements called pookkalam. The sadya or feast is looked forward to, as it consists of around 13 dishes prepared specially for this occasion.