Childhood in Kerala growing up was a pleasant time. There were no mad rushes, lot of rain and then, Onam. Onam celebrated on the Thiruvonam (Shravana Nakshatram) star day is a festival that is steeped in Hindu Puranic lore. The story involves the great King Bali (sometimes referred to as Maha-Bali ) and Vamana ( an Avatar or Incarnation of Lord Vishnu ).
The Onam / Vamana Jayanti Story, What it was and what it has become …
The story as in many Puranic lores is of the classic clash of a devout, efficient, benevolent King who is an Asura ( literally, one is not-a-Deva ). The benevolent Asura King usually causes flutter in the Deva Kingdom ( It’s king being Indra ) forcing the Gods to incarnate, kill the Asura and rescue the Devas. The story of Onam here follows this same storyline; only as in the other stories the symbolism is hidden, deep and often missed when one keeps celebrating festivals superficially. In the case of Onam there has been a systematic over-simplification of festival. I remember in my childhood we use to keep Trikkaakarayappan (Vamana) and Mahabali (sometimes called Maveli) as little clay pyramids in midst of the flower arrangements (Pookkalam ) we used to do in our home portico. Over the decades, this has all but disappeared from the celebrations. There is hardly any mention of Vamana anymore, no clay pyramids, many do not know Thrikkakarayappan. Some years back there was even a needless political controversy when Vamana Jayanti (Birthday celebration of Lord Vamana)wishes were given on even of Onam. The simple fact is, Vamana Jayanti is celebrated in our households and many Vaishnava homes just as it was earlier. It is just that with increasing commercialisation, securalisation of Onam and making it a harvest festival Vamana Jayanti seems to have been forgotten. This is unfortunate as Vamana Jayanti is Onam itself. There is no Onam without Vamana as much as there is no Onam without Mahabali.
In all this pell-mell of making it more secular, more harvest and less Hinduism, more commercial and less spiritual, more literal (Rich Noble Asuric King subdued by Brahmin Vamana and rudely pushed underground ) a narrative that suits the more left-leaning, liberal-leaning of the political spectrum has been woven into this mixture.
It is important that ancient India, it’s traditions cannot be painted with same brush. It is also important that one goes in to the original Sanskrit texts to reference stories of Mahabali and Vamana and read for oneself the narrative.
The Onam / Vamana Jayanti Spiritual Symbolism
Now is the time to resurrect the Vamana Jayanti Tradition, It’s symbolism, the true stature of MahaBali the Noble King. My poetic attempt at is below…
Symbolism Note : The reference to “Wild Sugarcane tasting ripe and sweet” is a reference to a Saivite Saint from Tamil Nadu, Pattinathaar or Pattinathu Swamigal. He was told by the Lord that he will attain Samadhi when the wild sugarcane tastes sweet. He used to go to the grove and taste sugarcane everyday to see if the day of his Moksha had come.