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The Legend of Onam: Kerala known as God’s Own Country was once said to be ruled by the legendary asura king, Mahabali. In spite of being an asura, King Mahabali was known to be just and generous and was highly regarded by his subjects. The land prospered under his rule and this prosperity made the devas & the King of Gods, Lord Indra quite envious. As King Mahabali’s stature rose as high as that of Indra, the devas approached Lord Mahavishnu and sought help. Since a world with two Indras represented a cosmic imbalance, Mahavishnu decided to trick King Mahabali in to giving up his wealth & stature. He assumed the form of a Brahmin dwarf (Vamana) and approached King Mahabali for alms. King Mahabali being kind and generous and requested Vamana to ask for whatever he pleases. Vamana told the king that all he wanted was land that can be measured in 3 strides of his walk. From the odd request King Mahabali deduced that this Vamana was no ordinary Brahman dwarf but the Lord Mahavishnu himself. But, having given his word he asks Vamana to measure out the land he needs with his 3 strides. With the first stride Vamana conquered all of the Earth and everything on it; with his second stride he conquered the skies and the Heavens. When Mahabali sees that there is nothing left to be conquered with the third stride, he offers his bowed head for Vamana to place his foot. Vamana pushes King Mahabali in to the Underworld. But, because of the piety and goodness of the king, he blessed Mahabali and granted him that he could visit his subjects every year and ensure that they are prosperous & happy. Lord Mahavishnu himself serves as the gatekeeper to Mahabali in the Underworld (Paathaalam). Onam & Pookalam: Malayalees all over the world celebrate Onam with as much fanfare and authenticity as possible. Pookalams, Onamsadyas (festive feasts served on plantain leaves), Kaikottikalli (a graceful dance performed by women), Pulikalli (a masked dance performed by men), Oonjals (swings) and Vallamkalli (snake-boat races) all form an integral part of the tapestry of Onam celebrations. The pookalams are created to welcome the KingMahabali on his annual visits.

Lord Mahavishnu disguised as Vamana  and King Mahabali

The Onam Sadya


Vallamkalli (Snakeboat race)


Pookalam (flower carpet): The tradition of creating a Pookalam (flower carpet) has been an integral part of the celebrations of the festival of Onam in Kerala, India. For the 10 days that lead to the day of Onam (or Thiruvonam), early in the morning members of the household, mostly women & children gather all sorts of flowers from around the neighborhood and create intricate pookalams.

I will put up a post of the pookalam we recently created in Kuwait. Though, we used materials other than flowers… Kuwait being a desert! 😀

© Surya Murali

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