Guiding Light: The Story of Onam

Ritesh AswaneyUpdated: Friday, September 09, 2022, 05:17 PM IST
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The tale of Holi and Bhakta Prahlada is recounted in every household, and he had an equally illustrious grandson, Maharaj Bali, who although was born in the Assura clan, was a very just king. Today we shall look at the genesis of Onam, which is also a harvest festival and celebrated with great pomp in the south of India, especially in God’s own country, Kerala.

Whilst Maharaj Bali was performing a Yagna (fire sacrifice) with the guru of the Assuras, Shukracharya (also associated with the planet Venus), a young Brahmin boy bearing an extraordinary aura entered the venue. Everyone took notice, as did the King, who felt honoured with his presence and offered him anything that he wished for.

The young boy just asked for three paces of earth, which greatly amused the mighty king, and paying no heed to his Guru’s words, he assented. Now this was no ordinary boy, he was MahaVishnu in incarnation as Vamana. When the time came to claim the three paces, he expanded in form, covering the heaven and earth in his first two steps and paused to ask the King where he should place his third step.

Realising that this could be none other than Narayana, Maharaj Bali knelt and offered his head to Vamana, who was extremely touched by the King’s integrity and demeanour. He gently placed his third step on Bali’s head, blessing him and also granted him a boon that he could return to his kingdom during the 10-day festival of Onam. The festival culminated yesterday, preceded by Vaman Jayanti on Wednesday. As is the case with most puranic history, there is more to it than the story, so let's look at the lessons.

Pride and haste are a bad combination: King Bali, having conquered heaven and earth, felt invincible, so much so that he even shunned the wisdom of his incredibly wise Guru Shukracharya, who tried his best to warn him. One must also always heed the advice of the Guru, who, if a true Guru, only has your best interest at heart.

Integrity redeems: Now despite his vanity, King Bali, being Maharaj Prahlad’s grandson, had an extremely high sense of integrity. Even when he realised that he was about to lose everything he owned, he decided to keep his promise. This ultimately redeemed him, earning him a special place in Lord Vishnu’s heart.

Your past doesn’t define you: Despite being born an Assura, Maharaj Bali was an extremely just and popular king. He wasn’t evil in his ways, torturing his people like his other brethren, instead he was very popular amongst them. In the same way, you can choose to follow a path of righteousness, despite the past.

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