Onam is an ancient festival which still survives in modern times. Kerala's rice harvest festival and the Festival of Rain Flowers, which fall on the Malayalam month of Chingam, celebrate the Asura King Mahabali's annual visit from Patala. Onam is unique since Mahabali has been revered by the people of Kerala since prehistory.The King is so much attached to his kingdom that it is believed that he comes annually from the nether world to see his people living happily. The deity Vamana, also called Onatthappan is also revered during this time by installing a clay figure next to the floral carpet (Pookalam) .The birthday of Sri Padmanabhan the presiding Deity of Thiruvananthapuram, is on the Thiruvonam day in the month of Chingam.
The best part of the festival is that it is a secular festival so people from different communities and religion can take part in it. Onam mythology may have been devised as a political allegory/tool where by the subjects could remind the rulers about an Ideal King and a welfare state. Onam songs mentions many of the modern social/economic indicators of a Welfare State including Crime rates, Child Mortality rates etc. Rulers may also have promoted it as it may have served as an indicator/barometer of the popularity/unpopularity of their Governance policies. The beauty of the festival lies in its secular fabric. People of all religions, castes and communities celebrate the festival with equal joy and verve.
Onam also helps to create an atmosphere of peace and brotherhood by way of various team sports organised on the day. It is a ten day festival. The first day is called Atham and tenth day, Thiruonam are most important of all. Popularity and presentation of rich culture of the state during the carnival made Onam the National Festival of Kerala in 1961. Elaborate feasts, folk songs, elegant dances, energetic games, elephants, boats and flowers all are a part of the dynamic festival called Onam.
The festival portrays the rich cultural heritage therefore it signifies the rich heritage of India. Rich cultural heritage of Kerala comes out in its best form and spirit during the ten day long festival. It is indeed a treat to be a part of the grand carnival. People of Kerala make elaborate preparations to celebrate it in the best possible manner. The most impressive part of Onam celebration is the grand feast called Onasadya, prepared on Thiruonam. Another enchanting feature of Onam is Vallamkali, the Snake Boat Race, held on the river Pampa. There is also a tradition to play games, collectively called Onakalikal, on Onam. Folk performances like Kummatti kali and Pulikali add to the zest of celebrations. If we try to find out the meaning and significance behind its celebration we will see that according to legends it is this visit of Mahabali that is celebrated as Onam every year. People make all efforts to celebrate the festival in a grand way and impress upon their dear King that they are happy and wish him well.