A long long time ago, an Asura (demon) king called Mahabali ruled Kerala. He was a wise, benevolent and judicious ruler and beloved of his subjects. Soon he conquered all the three worlds. Aditi, the mother of Devas went to Vishnu for help. Vishnu incarnated in the form of a dwarf called Vamana and approached Mahabali while he was performing a sacrifice (yajn) and asked for alms Mahabali granted him a wish. The Vamana asked for three paces of land for his living – and the king agreed to it. Vamana grew to great proportions. In the first step, he covered the heavens and with the second, he covered the netherworld. Realizing that Vamana’s third step will destroy the earth, Mahabali offered his head as the last step in order to save this world. Vishnu pushed him to the netherworld, but before banishing him to the underworld, Vishnu granted him a boon. He was allowed to return once a year to visit his people. It is during this day, called Onam, that Kerala pays tribute to the memory of this benign king who gave his life for his people There is an expectation that one day Maha Bali will return and establish his glorious kingdom once again on the earth.
The Period of the King of the Great Sacrifice When Maha Bali Ruled. Here is a song which we have been singing through generations during the Onam festival:
“Maveli Nadu Vanidum Kalam
Amodathode vasikum kalam
Adhikal Vyadhikal Onnumilla
Bala maranangal Kelkanilla
Ellolamilla Poli Vachanam
Kallaparyum Cheru Nazhiyum
Kallatharangal mattonumilla ”
It translates as:
“When Maveli, our King, ruled the land,
All the people were as One.
And people live joyful and merry;
They were all free from harm.
There was neither anxiety nor sickness,
Death of the children were never even heard of,
There were no lies,
There is neither theft nor deceit,
And no one is false in speech either.
Measures and weights were right;
No one cheated or wronged their neighbor.
When Maveli, our King, ruled the land,
All the peoples formed one casteless race. ”
Onam is the only festival which Christians in Kerala celebrate in common with Hindus – it is the only festival which is celebrated together even by the outcastes, untouchables, Christians, Muslims and the high castes.
The Onam festival lasts for ten-days and falls during the harvest season.