How can the people of Kerala forget the prosperity showered on them by Mahabali the King of Mahabalipuram, thousands of years ago. He is destined to be back to his land every year with the blessings of Lord Vishnu to be with his people and grace the occasion. The whole Kerala waits for the arrival of their sovereign on the Shravan Nakshtra of the month of Shravan in August or September. As he would visit the entire households incognito all are to be swept and cleaned. People would decorate their houses with balloons and festoons – gay and fresh beautiful flowers. Sisters in the North would grace the month by tying rakhi on the wrist of their brothers on Rakshabandhan.
The entrance — yes from where Mahabali would enter the house must have a graceful look. Let’s have rangoli at the gate to please the King who was fond of all that was beautiful morally and materially. The king was so powerful that he had his sway over the three ‘Lokas’ – heaven – earth and hell. Naturally Indira, the leader of gods became envious lest he (Mahabali) should snatch away his throne. He approached Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu, being partial to the gods became a dwarf and visited the court of Mahabali as he had been to the court of king Bali too. He begged him only three steps of land. The prayer was accepted. The dwarf measured the heaven and earth in two steps. Where would he put his foot to measure the third step? Mahabali immediately offered his head feeling that he would have the heavenly touch of Lord Vishnu. The Lord granted the prayer. But the foot sent him to Patal with a boon that he would be allowed to visit his kingdom on the earth once in a year.
Of course the king would be visiting on Onam, the Shravan Nakshatra day. But people would rejoice his arrival for the whole lunar month. The rejoicings would continue for all the 28 days. Kerala being the land of beautiful women – the belle would adore the occasion. Girls in bright new clothes – their graceful limbs peeping out of the floral garlands and diamond bedecked jewellery would grace the occasion – all the twenty eight days with their well mastered moves of Kathak dance in the courtyards of their houses and at public places. Even the ‘garba’ of Gujarat during Navaratri festival may feel shy of it. The dances may be accompanied with instrumental music – The ‘tala’ on the mrudangam is according to the steps of the dancing belle. Well there may be a song too accompanying the ‘bhavas’ of the beautiful dame.
The domestic animals won’t be left behind. They would also grace the occasion in their decorated appearance. The occasion is to welcome the king of kings Mahabali. Well he would like to grace the occasion with processions of elephants. Unlike Mysore where the elephants would put a show on Dussehra day only, in the kingdom of Mahabali it would be not only in Mahabalipuram but all the cities of the state.
The gay festivities of Onam won’t see an evening. The streets are lighted as they are on Diwali throughout the country. Mahabali waits for the whole night. He has to meet the people the next day in the souls of the people themselves. Men, women and children would go to see their friends and relatives the next day as people do in the North the day next to Holi. But they don’t offer only sweets. They would offer saffron clothes – a symbol of piety – to the friends and relatives as if these are offered to Mahabali himself as a parting gift.