Legend has it that there was once a king called Mahabali. He was extremely powerful, a conquerer yet a kind and good king and a man of principles. He was performing the sacrificial rite of Viswajith at the banks of Narmada River, and declared that he would give anything that anyone sought from him during this Yagna. At this the gods were very annoyed. Bali was the ruler of all the three worlds having defeated the devas.
The gods approached Vishnu and asked for his help to dethrone Mahabali. Vishnu, incarnated in the form of Vamana, a dwarf to defeat the Daityas. As he was approaching them, the sages assembled there perceived the extraordinary effulgence form of the young lad. On being received as befitted a brahmin, Vamana smiled and said: "You need not give me anything great. It is enough if you give me that extend of land covered by three footsteps of mine".
Bali's preceptor, Shukracharya a Daitya priest, who could have vision of the future told Bali that the one, who had come to seek a gift from Bali was not an ordinary Brahmin but Lord Narayana Himself who had assumed this form. He advised Bali not to promise the lad anything. But Bali was a king who would never go back on his word and told his Guru that he would never break his promise. Bali told his Guru: "Prana (life) and Maana (honour) are the two eyes of a person. Even if life goes, honour should be protected. Granting that the person that has come now is the Lord Himself, I should be the most fortunate one as the Lord, who gives everything to mankind, is seeking something from me."
Vamana grew in size until he towered above the heavens. With one foot, he measured all of the earth. With the other, he claimed all of heaven. There was still one foot of territory that Bali owed him. Bali offered his head to be measured as the third step of land which Lord Vamana had asked for as alms, thus sending him to pathala.
As a last wish Mahabali was granted the permission to visit his subjects once a year. Thus, Keralites celebrate Onam festival to commemorate the memory of a Great King Mahabali who would keep his promise. Mahabali fulfilled his name as the great martyr for the sake of Truth. The name "Mahabali" itself means Great Sacrifice. Thus Onam celebrates a series of martyrdom of the devoted Daityas.
Prayer, festivities, sadhya and Vallamkali are typically symbolic of Onam.
Sadhya is the feast that comprises of a variety of dishes
and Vallamkali are the famous snake boat races which have now become a regular event.
For me the best part of onam is the Onasadhya...my mother makes scrumptious food which i consume in copious amounts...(yummy!!)
and of course the new clothes...but thats the story living away from Kerala..
The festivities in kerala are spectacle to behold!
My Onam Wishes
Maveli, in God's own country,
Descends annually to ensure bounty;
Amma, elegant in a mundu so white,
Bordered with a golden light;
Achchan also helps in the kitchen today,
Eleven yummy things-sadhya at midday;
Fresh flowers and clothes new and bright,
A pretty pookolam-a welcome delight;
Celebrating Bali's true and generous way,
Wishing you a Happy Onam today.
PS: Do check out the links for further and better information on Onam..