It is the festival of Onam today which is celebrated with pomp and show in the tiny state of Kerala where I belong to.
It is a day when the legendary king Mahabali visits his Kingdom to see his people and their prosperity . The legend says that the King Mahabali was ruling the then Kerala with a sense of egalitarianism and the people were prosperous and Happy . Mahabali was from the asura race and the rival deva king Indra felt jealous and threatened of mahabali and complained to Lord Vishnu as like in any modern day politics. Vishnubhagvan then takes the form of a dwarf Brahmin who seeking alms comes to the court of King Mahabali and demands land measuring three times his feet which the king happily agreed. However the dwarf suddenly transforms into an elephantine figure and the whole kingdom is measured in just two giant feet forcing the king to give his head to measure as the third feet, thereby making Vishnu pushing him down the earth to the mythological dark world called paathal . The humble king then seeks Vishnu’s permission to come and visit his kingdom once a year which is celebrated by Keralites as Onam.
Historical records of the Sangam period shows that the Chera kings in the early part of the Christian Era celebrated Onam. There is also records of celebration, on the starting of the harvest in the then Kerala region . As you are aware each regions of India had its climatic variations which made harvesting possible at different times .In Kerala when the Sun crosses the zodiac sign Leo (Singham Rashi which was pronounced as Chingam in Kerala, the equivalent of the Shravan season in North-Western India.) the first round of rains stops for the farmers to sow their seeds in the field which is the genesis of the celebration and festival.
The legend of Mahabali and the fifth avatar of Vishnu pushing him down to a mythological KalaPani Called Pathaal- on the instigation of Indra who feared for his position due to Mahabali’s pious ruling – are all fictitious mythology added later by the immigrant Brahmanic priests . The arrival of Monsoon and the three months of torrential rains in the plains of Kerala makes the red soil, fertile enough, for the then agricultural economy to strive which resulted in ecstasy and joy to the settlers celebrated by a pompous meal called Sadya with local delicacies and people playing various games like Pulikali (called tiger dance ritual dance mainly done by painting vermillion over the body and imitating a tiger ) and women playing the Thiruvathirakali , ( a circular and rhythmic, slow bottom gyrating dance )
I remember my child hood times plucking flowers and decorating them as a pookalam . This was followed by play and fun with friends and still as an adult I have a lot of good memories of childhood associated to Onam.
Unfortunately Onam of today is like an oxymoron with a barren Kerala without fields and all vegetables and other consumable coming from other states mainly from Tamilnadu. The men instead of playing pulikali , effeminate as they are , will be waiting in front of the government liquor shops (making the government of Kerala a richer 300 crore every year) , drinking the whole day and beating their wives while women glued to TV watching some molliwood crap . The agrarian economy is replaced by a money order economy with 30-40% of people migrated out for work (I am one among those hapless) and still with a 8-10% urban unemployment rate. The inter communal harmony has collapsed with undercurrents of talibanisation of the society with a cocktail mix of crime, politics and worklessness.
Good or bad Facebook has made Onam celebrations virtual with youngsters wishing through the social media with no personal contact witheach other .
As a malayallee when i become nostalgic of my childhood onam days , I hope mahabali is now seeing facebook in his lapto sitting in pataal clicking ‘’like”’ to the wishes of his country men.
Happy Onam to all of you