By Swami Harshananda
Festivals and sacred days add color and zest to life. Oṇam is the biggest festival of Kerala its national festival. It occurs in the month of Ciñgarh when the sun is in Siṅhalagna. Mahābali or Bali, the great Asura king, who once ruled this land, was pushed into the pātāla or netherworld by Viṣṇu as Vāmana because of his pride.
He was however permitted to revisit his kingdom once a year and Oṇam is the day on which he does it. Onam is a festival of flowers. Decoration with flowers of various kinds and colors in the form of concentric circles in front of the houses is worth watching. These decorations start ten days earlier. On the day of the Oṇam, clay images of Bali and Vāmana are kept, instead of the floral decorations and worshiped. 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