Today is the day of Thiruvonam, a major South Indian festival. It is celebrated by the Malayalam speaking people of India. It is a harvest festival.
Since Chennai has a large number of Malayali immigrants, the Onam festival is celebrated here too with great pomp and show.
It is a harvest festival and celebrates the end of the harvest and selling of the crop. (in turn getting money)
Originally, it was a 10 day long festival, but the modern Indian (who works in offices and does not go for agricultural work) cannot afford to waste 10 working days and so shortened it to just 3 days or even just 1 day.
Legend tells that a long time ago, there was a king named Mahabali who was immortal. But, he was very kind and good. He was also very generous. And during his reign, all the people were so happy and healthy that no one ever died. So, Mother Earth couldn’t bear the weight of these many people, so she went to Lord Vishnu (one of the 3 main Hindu deities) and told him her problem.
So, Lord Vishnu took his fifth re-incarnation, Vamana, the dwarf.
Vamana then went to King Mahabali and asked him for his help and to give him as much land as it would take for Vamana to take three footsteps.
King Mahabali agreed.
But then, Vamana started growing taller and larger. Then, he took one step which covered the whole Earth and another step which covered heaven.
Then, he had no other place to step upon to take his third footstep. So, King Mahabali, who was a man who kept his promises, told Vamana that he could take the third step on his head, which would push him off to the underground.
King Mahabali then asked Vamana only one thing, that he be allowed to see his subjects at least once a year. Vamana, i.e. Lord Vishnu agreed before King Mahabali was inevitably pushed into the underworld.
So, apparently, Onam is celebrated to welcome King Mahabali on that one day he could visit the Earth.
And that was the myth. Now, on Onam morning, everyone wakes up early, has a long bath and wears new dresses. Then the children go to pick and gather flowers (in villages) or they go to buy colourful flowers from the market (in cities).
Then, the children and teens, sometimes everyone, arrange beautiful flower carpets in various designs outdoors.
The adults would have started the preparation of a grand, multi-course lunch. This lunch, known as the ‘Sadhya’ is one of the main highlights of Onam.
Then, after the lunch is served, people sing songs and visit neighbours. They also play games, like tug-of-war with friends and family during the Onam time.
Around this time, the famous Snake Boat races of Kerala are held.
All together a jolly and happy mood is created.
But, to really enjoy all this, we must visit the villages, because, the urban Indian is far too busy to engage in all these activities and so, the spirit of Onam is much less in the cities as compared to villages.
It seems like the rich culture and heritage of India is on the verge of being lost. We must do our best to ensure that it doesn’t happen, although change is inevitable.
And with that, I bid you Good-Bye for now.
The flower carpet and the sadhya
P.S. The underworld in Hindu mythology is NOT hell. For those interested, try searching Wikipedia for Patala and Naraka. King Mahabali was apparently sent to Patala and not Naraka.