India indeed is a land of diverse cultures with innumerable festivals to celebrate. One such festival is Onam, which is celebrated in God’s Own Country, Kerala. Onam is a rice harvest festival and the beginning of New Year for Hindu Malayalis around the world.
One among the specialty of Onam is that it is a celebration welcoming a demon King. There are two beautiful mythological stories that are connected with the celebration of Onam.
Bali, an asura, was the son of Devamba and Virochana. He grew up under the tutelage of his grandfather, Prahlada, who instilled in him a strong sense of righteousness and devotion.
Bali would eventually succeed his grandfather as the king of the Asuras, and his reign over the realm was characterized by peace and prosperity. He would later expand his realm – bringing the entire world under his benevolent rule – and was even able to conquer the underworld and Heaven, which he wrested from Indra and the Devas. The Devas, after their defeat at the hands of Bali, approached their patron Vishnu and entreated him to restore their lordship over Heaven.
In Heaven, Bali, on the advice of his guru and advisor, Sukracharya, had begun the Ashwamedha Yaga so as to maintain his rule over the three worlds. Vishnu, meanwhile, had adopted the avatar of Vamana, a small Brahmin boy, and, during the rite, approached Bali and requested a grant of land – although only as much land as he could cover with three paces.
Despite the warnings of his advisor, Bali granted this boon. Vamana then grew to an immense size, and, with his first pace, traversed all of the earth and the underworld. With his second pace, he covered Heaven in its entirety. Admitting defeat, and seeing that Vamana has no more room for his last step, Bali offered his own head as a stepping-stone. At this time the asuras spoke out in protest, but Bali explained that all living and non-living things are God’s creation, and so it was God’s right to have them back. Lord Vishnu, seeing the devotion of Mahabali, blessed him and raised to him to Suthala, the supreme position in heaven.
The second legend is of Vishnu in the sixth incarnation of Parashurama (“Rama with an axe” ) in the era of King Kaartavirya. Kaartavirya persecuted and oppressed the people and once even stole the calf of Parashurama from his hermitage. Parashurama put an end to the evil Kaartavirya by killing him as well as his oppressive warriors. He then threw the axe and wherever it fell the sea retreated creating God’s Own Country, Kerala. The Onam festival, according to this legend, celebrates Parashurama’s creation of Kerala by marking those days as the New Year.
Whatever the reasons are, human beings always seeks reasons to celebrate their precious times on earth. Onam, one among those myriad festivals is not just a festival but a tale that speaks much about the qualities that makes one a demon or god!