People & Stories


Onam is Kerala's biggest festival. Onam is also known as the harvest festival of Kerala and a lot of facts and fables are attached to the festival.

The legend behind Palliodam Boat:

It is said that during Onam day, nobody should go hungry. Even the miser becomes generous and helps the poor with food and clothes. There is a story behind this.

Years ago, Battathirippad was travelling on a boat with a group of men. They were travelling with loads of food and reached a narrow point in the river. They couldn't go further. Battathirippad was the head oarsmen and he got out of the boat to investigate. He saw a hut housing a poor widow and her children in dire poverty and starvation. Feeling pity for them, he took some food from the boat and gave it to them. Battathirippad was amazed to see the narrow channel of river was no longer so narrow and he could proceed with his boat easily to the main part of the river. Ever since then, the feeding of the poor became a tradition people follow today during Onam.

The story behind Pookalam

One of the major rituals during the 10-day Onam festival is drawing flower designs with real flowers on the courtyard of homes. Every home, irrespective of the religion they beong to, enjoy putting Pookalam (Poovu means flower and Kalam means art) or the Flower rangoli as it signifies prosperity and happiness. The belief goes that when King Mahabali comes to visit his people, he would be greeted with fresh and fragrant flowers, which makes him happy in turn. The main flowers used for the Pookalam are Kakka Poovu, Chemparathy, Hanuman Kireedom, Mukkutti, Aripoo/ Konginipoo, Thumba, Thechipoovu and Chethi.

In the olden days, little boys and girls got up early in the morning and wandered around fields and gardens, singing songs and picking flowers to make their Pookalam.

When Mahabali arrives he would be able to see the unity of people and the abundance of resources of his land. He would be able to go back to his resting place, assured that the land he once ruled is still blooming in prosperity.

The ten steps of the Pookalam represent Hindu deities. The first step is Lord Ganesha, second step for Shiva and Shakti, third step for Shiva, fourth for Brahma, fifth represents panchaboothngal, sixth step honours Murugan, seventh represents the Guru, eight for the ashta digpalakar (eith protectors of the world) ninth for Lord Indra and the tenth and the final one for Lord Vishnu.

The Legend Behind Onam

Kerala was ruled by the King Mahabali who was as great and mighty ruler. He was a Asura ( Asuras are supposed to have the opposite personalities of a Devta). King Mahabali was so popular amongst his subjects that Devtas felt jealous of him. All of theGods went to the Lord Vishnu and presented the their case. Out of the Trinity, it is Lord Vishnu's role to protect the world, and the King Mahabali was an ardent devotee of the Lord.

Lord Vishnu came down in the form of a small Brahmin boy named Vamana and asked Mahabali to to gift him three paces of land – which is measured by the boys foot. The King was amazed, that was all that the boy wanted and readily agreed. The King's advisor understood who the boy was asked the king not to grant the boy wish. The King told his advisor that his promise cannot be broken and was ready to offer the land. The boy grew big enough that in his first foot he measured the heaven, with his second foot he measured the earth and asked the King for place for his third foot. The King who saw Lord Vishnu asked a favor to visit his kingdom once in a year for 10 days. Then the King removed his crown asked Lord Vishnu to place his leg on the king's head and sent him to the underworld. So with the third foot Lord Vishnu measured the underworld.

Onam is the celebration that marks the homecoming of King Mahabali. It is the day when a grateful Kerala pays a glorious tribute to the memory of this benign king who gave his all for his subjects.

Some say that this fatal step proved a blessing in disguise for the good king — the foot salvaged and released Mahabali from the recurrent cycle of birth and death. That is why Onam is celebrated by wearing new clothes and resolving to lead a new life of truth, piety, love, and humility.

Courtesy: Hindu Newspaper article