Onam is a centuries-old celebration held in the southern state of Kerala. It commemorates the anniversary of one of the greatest rulers ever, King Mahabali, who is said to return to his former kingdom (modern-day Kerala) from the underworld.
Mahabali Conquers the Three Worlds
According to Vamana Purana, Mahabali was the descendant of the aasura king Hiranyakashipu. Hiranyakashipu is the father of the famous saint and staunch devotee of Vishnu, Prahalad, who was defeated by Vishnu’s incarnation as the lion-faced Narasimha.
After Hiranyakashipu was defeated by Narasimha, it is said Mahabali drove the devas out of heaven and conquered the three worlds.
However, Mahabali ruled differently than Hiranyakashipu. It is said he was counseled to the path of righteousness by his grandfather, Prahalad himself. Although he was born into the clan of aasuras, who are typically associated with negativity, he was an extremely virtuous king.
Goddess Lakshmi Merges with Mahabali
It is said during Mahabali’s reign, every corner of his kingdom was filled with religious activities, and as a result, the whole world became devoid of “sin.”
To give you an idea of the utopia Mahabali established, below is a description from a famous Malayalam folk song translated into English by A.M. Kurup from his paper, The Sociology of Onam published in the Indian Anthropologist:
”When Mahabali ruled the land, all people enjoyed equal status and were extremely happy. None had any difficulty, and there was no disease or decay. Infant mortality was unknown during the time, and the people enjoyed a long life. Agriculture was in its zenith, and paddy yielded a hundred times. All were extremely good, and not a single corrupt or cruel person was to be seen. The people were all alike. People used only good gold to make jewelry. Thieves and cheats were unknown; measures and measuring rods were accurate. There was sufficient rain at the appropriate time; people read the scriptures and invoked deities with reverence.”
Goddess Lakshmi herself was so pleased with Mahabali that one day she appeared before him, praised him, then merged into his body. Once this happened, Mahabali acquired all the splendors of the world.
The Devas Visit Brahma’s Heaven
After being driven from heaven by Mahabali, the devas went to seek the counsel of the creator, Brahma. Brahma advised them that Mahabali had become so powerful that only the almighty could defeat him. He instructed them to go and perform penance to Lord Vishnu, the savior of the world, so he would take birth and destroy Mahabali.
After thousands of years, eventually, Lord Vishnu was pleased and agreed to take birth in the womb of Aditi, the mother of the gods, and destroy Mahabali.
Mahabali Receives Profound Revelations from Prahalad
Mahabali began to notice his army started to lose its radiance. Eager to know what was going on, he sought the counsel of his grandfather, Prahalad. Prahalad went into a deep meditation and discovered that Lord Vishnu was now in the womb of Aditi in the form of a “Vaaman,” or dwarf, and preparing to take birth to destroy Mahabali.
Prahalad told Mahabali what he saw. Mahabali inquired about who this Vishnu was, why he should be concerned about him, and that his army had many powerful demons who could defeat him. These arrogant words of Mahabali infuriated Prahalad, who was deeply devoted to Lord Vishnu. Prahalad cursed Mahabali to fall from grace and lose his kingdom.
Mahabali, upset, asked Prahalad to forgive him for his arrogance. He said that Prahalad was right to curse him and that he was not scared to lose his kingdom, but he did not want Prahalad to remain angry with him.
Prahalad felt sorry for Mahabali and told him that even though he cannot take his curse back, his blessings would be with him so he would become a supreme devotee of Lord Vishnu and be protected by him.
Mahabali Begins the Great “Ashwameda” Sacrifice to Become Indra
Even though Mahabali conquered the three worlds, he was advised by his Guru Shukraacharya, the planetary archetype, Venus, that he needed to perform the “Ashwameda” sacrifice to become the rightful king.
The Ashwameda sacrifice is an extremely elaborate ceremony that requires 100 fire ceremonies to be performed, along with other rituals.
Vamana Confronts Mahabali for the First Time
Meanwhile, Aditi gave birth to Vamana, who is said to have been born a short, handsome boy with profound intelligence. Around the age of 5, he set out to fulfill his destiny and promise to the devas to destroy Mahabali.
By this time, Mahabali had to perform just one more fire ceremony to complete the Ashwameda sacrifice and be crowned as Indra, the rightful king of the three worlds. Just before its completion, Mahabali noticed the dwarf boy, Vamana, approaching the site.
Vamana Makes an Astonishing Request
Mahabali’s Guru, Shukraacharya warned him that it was none other than Vishnu here to destroy the sacrifice. Mahabali, overwhelmed with the dwarf boy’s radiance, refused his Guru’s counsel and offered to provide the boy whatever he wished for.
Expecting something huge, Mahabali was noticeably surprised when the boy quietly asked for just three paces of land. The boy then told Mahabali that if one cannot be satisfied with three paces of land that there is nothing that could satisfy such a person.
Mahabali happily granted Vamana’s wish, even though he knew that this was sure to be his end.
Vamana Becomes a Giant
It is said immediately after Mahabali granted Vamana’s request, Vamana’s body began growing. His proportions grew so huge that Mahabali, in complete awe, could now only see his foot. Vamana then started taking his three steps. His first step covered the entire earth, and then his second covered the entire sky.
After claiming everything with his first two steps, he told Mahabali that he failed to keep his promise of three steps of land. Mahabali replied that he could place his third step on his head. Vamana, who became much pleased, put his final step on Mahabali’s head, taking everything Mahabali considered his, and pushing him and his clan into “Patala,” or the underworld. After Vamana took his three steps, the devas rejoiced and reclaimed their position in heaven.
Lakshmi and Vishnu Follow Mahabali to the Underworld
While in the underworld, Mahabali began establishing his new kingdom. Being such a virtuous king, he did not regret fulfilling his promise to Vishnu, even though it meant losing everything he once had. But Vishnu considered Mahabali a true devotee and felt he must help him. In disguise, he and his consort, Lakshmi, appeared as ordinary people and sought sanctuary with Mahabali in the underworld. It is said they stayed with Mahabali as a watchman, Vishnu, and as a woman whom Mahabali adopted as his sister, Lakshmi, advising him for years as his kingdom flourished.
Vishnu and Lakshmi Reveal Themselves to Mahabali
It is said that one day, Mahabali overheard the woman, whom he adopted as his sister, saying some prayers. Mahabali asked her who she was praying for, to which she replied, “You, brother!” Moved, Mahabali told her that he would give her whatever she wanted. The woman, in reply, requested her husband from Mahabali, saying that only he could return him to her. Confused, the woman pointed Mahabali at the watchman! After this, both the woman and man disappeared and in their places appeared Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu.
Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi Bestow Blessings on Mahabali
Lord Vishnu told Mahabali that it was Mahabali’s devotion that dragged him, Lord Vishnu, down to the underworld. Lord Vishnu continued by blessing Mahabali to become the next Indra once the current Indra’s rule was over. He blessed him further by saying that he, Lord Vishnu, and his people will always love him.
Mahabali then turned towards Lakshmi and sought forgiveness for keeping her husband away from her. It is said Lakshmi thanked him and told him Lord Vishnu is always with those who love him. She then blessed him that he would always be prosperous.
Onam is Born: Lord Vishnu’s Boon to Mahabali
Lord Vishnu was reportedly so moved by Mahabali’s nobility, that he gave him another boon that he could visit his old kingdom on earth or modern-day Kerala, once per year. This day when Mahabali visits the earth is called Onam. Grand celebrations are held with elaborate ceremonies in honor of his sacrifice to Lord Vishnu, and his return to earth.
Pillai Center will be sponsoring a one-of-a-kind fire lab and other elaborate ceremonies following a centuries-old Kerala tradition. According to the traditional practice, it is believed that these fire labs and ceremonies can help you overcome financial challenges and receive the gift of 8 types of wealth blessings, including:
- Name, fame & success
- Peace of mind & happiness
- Landed property & luxury
- Luck & prosperity
- Material wealth & desire fulfillment
- Knowledge & skills
- Health & longevity
- Good family & fortune
Click the button below to sign up to participate in the grand celebration of Onam beginning on September 11, 2019, and to shop for rare energized artifacts that will be consecrated during the ceremonies.
Join By September 10 at 3:30 p.m. PT | 10:30 p.m. UTC