Onam is celebrated in the memory of King Mahabali. It was said that King Mahabali ruled Kerala a long time ago and looked after the welfare of the people. Thus Onam shows the blissful rule of the King and the freedom, which the people enjoyed under his rule. The people also believe that during Onam, the King returns to Kerala to pay a visit to his people.
The people in Kerala arrange for this festival by cleaning up their houses and decorating them. On the occasion of Onam, everybody in the family wears new clothes. Delicious sweets and dishes are prepared and served on the banana leaves. “Pookalam” a flower mat is visible outside every house. This mat is a symbol of welcoming King Mahabali. On the eve of Onam, traditional rituals are performed and the people celebrate the occasion with a grand feast. “Payasam” a sweet and tempting porridge is one of the favorite dessert served on the eve of Onam.
“Vallamkali” or a great boat race is an attractive feature of this festival. In this game hundreds of men row the boats to the beat of drums and cymbals. An interesting thing to note is that above each boat there is a scarlet silk umbrella and gold coins are hung from the umbrella. This event is extremely popular with various boats competing with each other in order to win the race.
Onam is celebrated not only by Hindus but also by Christians and Muslims. It is one such festival that unites all the people regardless of race and religion.