Onam is celebrated in the memory of King Mahabali. It was said that King Mahabali ruled Kerala a long time ago and looked after the welfare of the people. Thus Onam shows the blissful rule of the King and the freedom, which the people enjoyed under his rule. The people also believe that during Onam, the King returns to Kerala to pay a visit to his people. Onam is only such festival that unites all the people regardless of race and religion.

Onam festivals falls during the Malayali month of Chingam (Aug - Sep) which attracts thousands of people from outside and within the state. This festival lasts for ten days and brings out the best of Kerala culture and tradition. All the activities during this season are centered on worshipping, music, dance, sports, boat races and good food.

The people in Kerala arrange for this festival by cleaning up their houses and decorating them. On the occasion of Onam, everybody in the family wears new clothes. Delicious sweets and dishes are prepared and served on the banana leaves. Intricately decorated Pookalam, ambrosial Onasadya, breathtaking Snake Boat Race and exotic Kaikottikali dance are some of the most remarkable features of Onam.

According To Mythology The Bhagwat Purana (ancient Hindu scriptures) tells the engrossing story of Mahabali. He was a noble and virtuous king. Although he was an asur (demon) king, he was known far and wide for his generosity and good sense. It is said that if a person asked Mahabali for something, he never returned disappointed. The story goes that once Mahabali decided to perform the Ashvamedha Yagna (a horse-sacrifice in order to be proclaimed the most powerful and distinguished king in the three worlds heaven, earth and the nether world). The devtas (gods) felt especially threatened by this ritual for as noble as Mahabali could be; he was after all an asur. The devtas rushed to Lord Vishnu (the Preserver in the Hindu Holy Trinity of Creator-Preserver-Destroyer) imploring him to rein Mahabali in.

The Interesting Tale of Mahabali and The Dwarf These are celestial matters and we should leave the gods to work in their own mysterious ways. Coming back to Mahabali and the elaborate preparations of the Yagna; the venue of the Yagna was to be the banks of the holy Narmada River. It is believed that while Mahabali was proceeding to Narmada, a charming little boy holding an umbrella stopped him. Seeing the boy who was actually a dwarf, Mahabali realised that this was no ordinary fellow. Mesmerised, he told the dwarf to ask him for anything he desired. The dwarf simply asked him for the measure of area he would cover in three strides. Taken aback by such a trivial wish, Mahabali asked him to demand something more substantial. The dwarf did not change his mind and again repeated his wish. Mahabali had little choice but to agree. The dwarf assumed his original self Lord Vishnu who had appeared in his fifth avatar or manifestation (the fifth reincarnation of Vishnu in the form of a dwarf is called Vamana).

Assuming gargantuan proportions, he took his first step on earth, the second foot was leisurely placed on the heavens and well, you could say that not much was left for the third step! So Mahabali, the magnanimous king that he was, rose to the occasion and offered his head for the last stride of the Almighty. Vishnu promptly obliged, thus pushing Mahabali into the realms of the nether world. Moved by the nobility of this demon king, Vishnu proclaimed that even after losing every worldly possession, Mahabali would earn eternal wisdom and the love and affection of Vishnu. Mahabali accepted his fate unflinchingly and only asked for one wish in return. This wish, more than anything, proved how worthy a king he was. He asked for the chance to come back to his cherished land and people at least once a year. It is believed that since that day, Mahabali comes every year to visit this sun-dappled land of coconuts and his beloved people. This day is called Onam.