Onam is essentially a harvest festival of Kerala, a feature in all agrarian societies. It also has a cultural/religious/historical perspective, being considered the day when the ancient king Mahabali comes on annual visit to his former kingdom to visit his subjects (or descendants). Now, Mahabali was an Asura king who was much beloved by his subjects. This was not palatable to the Suras (or devas/devatas) & they hatched a clever plan to show him is proper place. Now, I won’t be getting into the story of what all happened (you can read more about it at: http://www.onamfestival.org/king-mahabali-onam.html) & get to the end. Vishnu (in an avatar as Vamana), defeated Mahabali & dispatched him to Patala. Of course, the devatas were gracious enough in victory to grant Mahabali the concession of visiting his land once a year.
People of Kerala celebrate this annual homecoming of Mahabali as Onam. This also gives them a reason to celebrate this harvest festival in good times & bad. Of course, today it doesn’t really matter whether the harvest has been good or bad as Kerala economy now lives on petrodollars. In all their goodness, RSS has now decided to give Kerala another reason to celebrate Onam. They have introduced Vamana Jayanti into the Kerala cultural calendar so that the it has another reason to celebrate.
Now, like the political opponents of Kerala I am tempted to look for the ulterior motives behind this move. Which is not really a difficult task. One, as an organisation that has essentially a divisive way of looking at a society RSS/BJP will not take kindly to a mythical character who treated all his subjects as one. Two, as an organisation that basically follows the north Indian cultural traits, it will not be very pleased with an Asura king being worshipped. Three, as a festival that is celebrated by all irrespective of religion, Onam does not support the kind of politics that necessitates dehomogenising the society. And so on… But, I am least perturbed by what a political group does because the rest do the same too.
I am more perplexed by the fact that RSS/BJP are pitching Vamana Jayanti directly against Onam. Now, Onam being the day when Mahabali comes for his annual visit, is the day when Vamana (or Vishnu) would have been back in Swarga. So how can this be considered as Vamana Jayanti? Unless Mahabali returns on the same day that he was defeated & banished from his kingdom. Being not at all knowledgeable in this area, I have absolutely no clue on this.
I think Vamana Jayanti should be celebrated on the day Vamana defeated Mahabali. Also, the fact that Vishnu took on the avatar of Vamana solely to defeat Mahabali, this should also be the birth anniversary of Vamana. But one of the legends has it that the day Vamana defeated Mahabali is the day celebrated as Diwali. Now, the major reason for Diwali being a major festival is that Rama, along with his wife & brother, returned to his kingdom after 14 years. So, celebrating Diwali as Vamana Jayanti would belittle the stature of Rama in the pantheon of gods. So, what if both were avataras of Vishnu? He is the guiding light of an entire political movement.
I think RSS/BJP have decided to celebrate Onam as Vamana Jayanti only to avoid a conflict between these two avataras of Vishnu. If it clashes with celebration of Mahabali’s return, so be it. Vamana defeated Mahabali once & can do so again too. At least, there will be no Vishnu v/s. Vishnu in Prithvi Lok!!
Pic courtesy: http://www.kochiservnet.com/Onam-2011/About_Onam.php