Monday, September 16, 2013

Happy Onam!

Onam is one of the most important festival of Keralites. Onam celebrates King Mahabali's visit. He is lovingly called as Maveli. There is a story behind this festival. The story in my words:

Once upon a time, there was a King called Mahabali. During his reign, everything was perfect. People were treated equally. Deceit, lies, thefts, murders, corruption etc were unheard of! Everyone adored him. A generous, just and loving King. There was no poverty and everyone was content. He was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. The only problem was he was born into an Asura family (the Prahlada lineage). This was not a problem with his subjects.

Image source:
It was a problem for the super jealous Devas. They were scared that their so called supremacy was going to be challenged by him. How can the stupid subjects prefer a King who does everything for them over the Devas who devote their precious time watching the Apsaras dance for them!? And our God Vishnu decides to take the Devas side for He-knows-what reason. He disguises himself as a poor Brahmin and goes to the generous King Mahabali and asks for pieces of land that he could cover with three steps. Mahabali obviously said he could have as much land as he wants.

As soon as Mahabali promised, Vishnu (disguised as the brahmin -Vamana) grew into some giant-ass size and with one step covered the whole earth, the skies with the other and asked the King as to where he should keep the third step. Mahabali offers his head to keep up the promise. Our God places the third step on his head and pushes him into the Patala(the underworld, the netherworld.)

Onam is the boon that Vishnu gave Mahabali as part of fulfilling the promise; 10 days to visit his subjects every year! Excellent work. Deprived us of a good King! I mean, that's brilliant! Wow!

So well... At least the King gets to come and meet his beloved subjects (who, thanks to him being in Patala have become murderers, rapists, criminals, corrupt & what not).  After seeing his subjects' current state, I don't think he comes anymore. But I would love to believe he does and in this 10 days, decides to take some of the above mentioned subjects back with him to Patala and make sure they get "treated well".

I, on my part, try to please him, to do the needful with some mere food offerings (that ideally we end up eating).
Avial, Pal payasam, Malabar Kootu curry,
Sambhar, Matta Rice
This year we did not put any pookalam (Flower decorations). Here's one from 2010. We had access to two flower types of the same species and managed this, thanks to some leaves :) :
Pookalam @ 2010

You can read the full story (not my version) here: King Mahabali & Onam. The only thing that is probably wrong is that Asuras are not Demons; much like how the Devas are not Gods.

Side Note: There are versions of the story which says that Mahabali went to Patala as that was the only realm left for him, thanks to Vamana (aka Vishnu). There are some versions which says that Mahabali was over ambitious and snatched Heaven from the Devas and which is why Vishnu helped them regain Heaven from Mahabali. I don't even want to comment on that. Just putting it here!


There is a beautiful folk song that describes the story in Malayalam. I'm embedding two renditions here. The first follows the original tune. The second is a newer take on the song and I like it too.

The song is long and people shift / skip the verses in various renditions. The overall translation is as follows:

When Maveli ruled the land,
All the people were equal.
And people were joyful and merry;
They were all free from harm.
There was neither anxiety nor sickness,
Deaths of children were unheard of,
There were no lies,
There was neither theft nor deceit,
And no one was false in speech either.
Measures and weights were right;
No one cheated or wronged his neighbor.
When Maveli ruled the land,
All the people formed one casteless races

Source: Wiki

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