By Swami Harshananda
Festivals and sacred days add colour and zest to life.
Oṇam is the biggest festival of Kerala, practically, its national festival. It occurs in the month of Ciñgarh (the first month of the year according to the Malayālam Calendar) (Srāvaṇa/Bhādra-pada, August/September) when the sun is in Simhalagna (Leo). Mahābali or Bali, the great Asura king, who once ruled this
land, was pushed into the pātāla or netherworld by Viṣṇu as Vāmana (5th incarnation in the Daśāvatāras) because
of his pride. He was however permitted to revisit his kingdom once a year and Onam is the day on which he does it. Onam is a festival of flowers. Decoration with flowers of various kinds and colours, in the form of concentric circles, in front of the houses is a sight to see. These decorations start ten days earlier. On the day of the Onam itself, clay images of Bali and Vāmana are kept, instead of the floral decorations, and worshipped. A dance called Kaikottukali by the womenfolk in the evening adds to the festive atmosphere. Another attraction is the regatta or boat-races conducted at different places in the State, the one at Aranmula being the most celebrated.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore