Onam or Thiruonam originated as a joyous annual reminiscence of the golden rule of King Mahabali, a mythical king, who ruled Kerala a very long time ago. It recalls the sacrifice of the great king, his true devotion to God, his human pride and his ultimate redemption. This king once ruled over the Keralites during the Golden Age before caste existed, "when all men were equal, when no one was poor, when there was neither theft nor dread of thieves" (Maveli natu vanitum kalam... Manusharellam onnu pole ... ).
Facts and fables blend as Kerala celebrates this royal return, year after year with the festivities of Onam. Legend has it that the gods plotted against Mahabali to end his reign. For this they sent Lord Vishnu to earth in the form of a dwarf Brahmin. But before being trampled down to the netherworld, Vishnu granted the king's sole wish: To visit his land and people once every year.
A flower carpet called 'Pookalam' is laid in front of every house to welcome the advent of the vanquished king, and earthen mounds representing Mahabali and Vishnu are placed in the dung-plastered courtyards. Traditional rituals are performed followed by a lavish feast called 'Sadhya'. Onam also means new clothes for the whole family, sumptuous home-cooked delicacies on plantain leaf and the lingering aroma of the sweet Payasam.
Songs are also sung in praise of Saraswati, Ganapathy and Krishna which is considered to be very auspicious. Sadya over, on Onam day, women dance away to glory till the euphoria wanes.
Spectacular parades of caparisoned elephants, fireworks and the famous Kathakali dance are traditionally associated with Onam. It's also the season of many cultural and sport events and carnivals. All this makes Onam-time a perfect period to visit Kerala - this coastal state which is also known as "Gods Own Country".