Every festival in India has some legend behind it and so is the case of Onam. Though everyone in the Kerala celebrate Onam festival with great enthusiasm, the Nambudiri Brahmins (also known as Namputiri, a dominant caste of Kerala) believe that Onam originated in their community. They also believe themselves to be the custodians of Vedic religion and traditional Hindu rituals. Here are some of the most famous legends about Onam
Legend of King Mahabali
Perhaps the most popular of Onam legends, this one is about the mythological king, Mahabali who ruled Kerala. This demon king was known for his wise and generous nature and his subjects loved him dearly. Soon he became famous as an able King and he decided to rule the heavens and the netherworld. The Gods felt challenged by his widespread fame and popularity and feared that he might over-power them. They approached Lord Vishnu and asked him to curtail Mahabali’s powers.
Vishnu transformed into a dwarf Brahmin called Vamana and presented himself before Mahabali when the king had just performed his morning prayers and gave boons to Brahmins. Vamana’s wisdom pleased the king immensely and he granted him a wish. Lord Vishnu disguised as Vamana asked for three paces of land and the king agreed to it even though his Guru Sukracharya warned him against it. Vamana increased his stature to a massive size and with his first step he covered the entire sky. With his second step, he straddled the earth.
The king soon realized that this Brahmin was not an ordinary man and he offered his head for the third step to save the earth from destruction. Vamana’s third step pushed the king into (Patala) nether land. However, pleased with the king’s generosity, Vishnu granted him a boon before banishing him. King Mahabali who was very attached to his people asked Lord Vishnu to allow him to visit Kerala and his people every year. Lord Vishnu granted him this wish and the homecoming of King Mahabali is celebrated by people as Onam.
Legend of Boat Palliodam
Several years ago, some people were traveling in a boat called Palliodam when suddenly it stuck in the river. The oarsmen tried hard but it wouldn’t move. A spiritual man, Bhattathiripad, who was on the boat, thought this to be a bad omen as the boat contained a lot of food. He came to a river bed for help but instead saw a poor family without food. Moved by the pathetic state of the family, Bhattathiripad gave them food from the boat. Only when the family had eaten wholeheartedly, did the boat move on. The tradition to feed one poor person on Onam began with this legend.
Legend of Vanishing Boy
According to this onam legend, the head of Katoor Mana, a Nambudiri family once had a bath in the river Pampa. Having said his prayers after the bath, he waited to feed a poor person but nobody came. After waiting for a long time, the tired Brahmin closed his eyes and prayed to Lord Krishna. When he opened his eyes, he saw a small poor boy standing in front of him. The Brahmin bathed the boy and gave him clothes and food. After finishing the food, the boy suddenly vanished. The Brahmin looked for the boy and saw him at the Aranmulla Temple, but then the boy disappeared again. The Brahmin concluded that this was no ordinary boy. The Brahmin then brought food every year to the Aranmulla Temple.