Onam: How Kerala celebrates The Return of Their King

by - September 06, 2019

Author's note - Consider this your fun 'General knowledge about Onam' class.

For a Keralite, there really is no festival as joyous as Onam. Religion, caste and bank balance all take a back seat during this period as everyone gets together to celebrate 'The Return of the King'

Onam: How Kerala celebrates The Return of Their King

Which King am I talking about?


Well, this is where the fun begins for those who are not familiar with the story. It also gives a very telling insight into the Malayalee mindset. You see, we are celebrating a demon king / asuran called Mahabali (Maaveli). Yup, he's our king and we love him loads.

Why celebrate a Demon King?


According to religion/legend/mythology, King Mahabali was a demon/ asuran but was renowned for being righteous and generous. He did however cross the Gods the wrong way by defeating them and taking their land (you know, that small thing called Heaven.)

Thus entered Lord Vishnu into the game, taking on the incarnation of a dwarf Vaamana who asks Mahabali for 3 feet of land. It must be pointed out here that Mahabali ignores his Guru Shukracharya's warning that this is a trap (this is the equivalent of the 'Terms and Conditions' that you ignore today when downloading apps, by the way).

When Mahabali agrees, Vaamana grows in epic proportions (think Donald Trump's ego, but bigger). With his first step, he covers the Earth and with his second, the Heavens.

He then asks Mahabali (who by now has figured out this is a special Vishnu con job, but is actually cool with it since he - like his Grandpa Prahlad - is a big fan of the Lord) where to place his foot next for his 'third feet of land'.

Onam is based on The story of Vamana and Mahabali as per Hindu mythology


King Mahabali dutifully bows and asks him to place his feet upon the King's head. Vishnu is impressed and grants him the one request he makes - to be allowed to visit his people once every year.

Unlike in a Bollywood film, there was no Nirupa Roy wala mother to come forward and tell the Lord to forgive Mahabali so then Vishnu grows through with the deal and places his feet on Mahabali's head, pushing him down to Hell.

He comes up to visit Kerala though, as promised. And we, his loyal peeps, dutifully await his return every year.

What are the 10 Days of Onam?

Via Onam, we welcome our pure and pious Mahabali in a festival that lasts a grand total of 10 days, each day having specific rituals and practices.

Day 1 - Atham


  • Temple Run - yup, there will be temple visits.
  • Pookalam - houses, offices and institutes all decorate their entrance with small flower carpets.
  • Attachamayam - A colourful procession from Thrippunithara, considered to be the place where Mahabali left Earth from. 


Attachamayam - A colourful procession from Thrippunithara, considered to be the place where Mahabali left Earth from.
Attachamayam

This also marks the day Mahabali starts his journey from 'down south'. Ironic that the Demon King is heading to God's Own Country, eh?

Day 2 - Chithira


  • Start cleaning your homes. Did you not hear the news? Our king is coming! 
  • The Pookalam (flower carpets) grow bigger.


Day 3 - Chodhi


  • Time to buy gifts. 'New traditional' wear and gold are often gifted, called Onakodi. So expect packed marketplaces. 
  • Yes, the flower carpet once more grows bigger.


Day 4 - Vishakam


  • Everyone in the family helps in making the magical feast filled with over 20+ items, called Onam Sadya. Vishakam is considered one of the most auspicious days of the 10.


Kerala sadya Onam
(Since it is about a huge feast, rest assured, I will not stop at a single line description. There is a whole article I have dedicated to it. You can read about the Onam Sadya here.)

Day 5 - Anizham


  • Vallamkali snake boat races begin from Aranmula and takes place on the river Pampa. You have to see it to believe it. 


Vallamkali snake boat races begin from Aranmula and takes place on the river Pampa.

Each boat has 100 men rowing and helmsmen too. We have teams and all!

Day 6 - Thriketa


  • Time to start giving each other those gifts.

Day 7 - Moolam


  • Puli Kali - artists with some major body paint skills will now grace your view, painted as tigers and hunters, synchronizing their dances to the beats of the local percussionists. No mean feat this. 
Puli Kali - artists with some major body paint skills will now grace your view, painted as tigers and hunters, synchronizing their dances to the beats of the local percussionists.



  • While the men flaunt their tiger bellies in the Puli Kali, the women are all about grace with the Thiruvathira Kali, dancing in synchronicity around a lamp or flower carpet.


Thiruvathira kali performed in a dance show.


  • Onam Sadyas will be available from here on in most hotels and even temples.


Day 8 - Pooradam

Onathappan - Statues of Mahabali and Vaamana are placed in the flower carpet

  • Onathappan - Statues of Mahabali and Vaamana are placed in the flower carpet (Did I mention that this carpet has been growing every day from Day 1!?) 
  • This is our invitation to the King to enter our house for lunch.


Day 9 - Uthradam

The penultimate day is all about making D-Day perfect so expect to find everyone in the markets buying fresh everythings!

Day 10 - Thiruvonam

Everything at its peak. This is the day our King arrives, after all. So, we have the best clothes, best flower carpet, best processions, best fireworks... and oh yes, best Onam Sadya, of course.

Onam in Kerala


And somewhere, the Demon King we did all of this for is grateful that his subjects still remember him and showers this crazy bunch of his with blessings to last till the next year he arrives.

Kerala celebrates the festival of Onam for 10 days every year



Happy Onam, everyone. 

Now, I know you really want to go check out the page I made detailing all the 28 items that go into making the delicious Onam sadya feast.


Authors note:

I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa.

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70 comments

  1. Wow great post and informative too, I had learnt a lot about celebrating Onam, will share this with my kids. #Surbhireads #Myfriendalexa

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  2. For the first time came across such a well detailed post about this, made it easy to understand and imagine the festivities.

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  3. I was not aware of the story of Mahabali. Very thankful to the information about this festival.

    Also, I was totally unaware of the "Onam". Great to know about the 10 days of Onam.

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  4. Wow, this is such an informative post. I did not know that the festival lasted for ten days. The flower carpets, dances, body paintings, dancing around the lamps, rangolis and yes not to forget the elaborate meals look very good. King Mahabali was really wise. #MyFriendAlexa #ShubhraReads

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  5. This was an interesting and informative read compiled in your inimitable style! I love the pookolams, in fact I've downloaded the ones you put up on twitter yesterday. And Onasadya...who can resist it? Best part is, Onam is a big deal for all in Kerala, irrespective of caste/religion.

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  6. Someone please take me to Kerala now! :( :( I'm missing all the fun and frolic badly. This is a post well-done, Doc. Way to go.

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  7. Wow! Lovely post on Onam. Being a North Indian, I'm always fascinated about the festivals southern part of our country celebrates.

    #MyFriendAlexa
    #AditiReads
    aditikapur.com

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  8. That is a lovely post on Onam. Some of my friends in college celebrated it but I never knew about its significance.

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  9. What a lovely post! I didn’t know much about Onam except for the feast bit and the flower carpets. I also think demons are just misunderstood - it’s not like demons are necessary pure evil - you know, the shades of grey. So it’s really cool that you have this beautiful long festival celebrating the demon king!

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  10. Andd I loved reading it! loved your witty writing style

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  11. I just loved this post. I am a huge fan of your writing style. And this post is such a gem for all about the Onam festival facts. Happy to know the story and all.

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  12. This was a fun read. So entertaining and informative at the same time 😀

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  13. I loved the way your hilarious take on how the festival came about. Also enjoyed the video of the dance. I have lived in Kerala for 14 years and simply love the floral designs of onam and the sadhya is simply great. I am a Tamilian who is in love with everything about Kerala.

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  14. You have put it out so beautifully. My father would explain to me about Onam. Yet growing up in Delhi, I would run away from the other festivities, and just turn up for the Onam Sadya.

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  15. I have heard alot about the onam festival, ppl of the place have immense respect and faith to their king #millennialscribbler

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  16. Thanks a lot for such a detailed informative post. First time I got to know so much details on Onam.

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  17. I have enjoyed the onam delicacies several times but didn't know the story and what a wonderful narration. Came across your blog for the first time and totally loved it.

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  18. This was such an informative post, I had no idea how and why Onam is celebrated in Kerela.

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  19. As we say in Mumbai: Yaar! Your writing style is 'Ek Number'!! Loved the way you have injected sarcasm (the small thing they call heaven) and humour (Nirupa Roy)...and once you gripped my attention, you explained the 10-day festival so well!! Brilliant writing style! You have a fan in me! Keep writing such interesting posts. #MyFriendAlexa #DiaryOfAnInsaneWriter

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  20. I didn't know so many details about Onam. thanks for sharing it with us.

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  21. I never knew why onam is celebrated. Now i know. Thank You for this information. Love the way how you explain it and try to simplify it. 😄

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  22. India is a land of festivals. And different states share the significance of the different festival. Like Holi & Janmashtmi In Mathura, Ganapati pooja in Maharashtra and Onam in Kerala. I am always curious to know about different festivals traditions of my nation. So thanks for this post. Nicely written post with beautiful pictures.

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  23. Informative post.Good to know of the various traditions followed on all ten days.I have many colleagues who keep talking about some of these traditions. I know enough to have a nice discussion now.

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  24. A very informative post and written in such a fun way. I never knew all these facts about Onam. Thank you

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  25. Thank you Roshan for making us aware of Onam festival. It is surely a grand celebration.

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  26. We used to celebrate when we were in college in Bangalore ..Story behind this festival is new to me ...Thanks for sharing

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  27. Celebration of Onam I have heard and witness a bit many times,but must say never went through this much details about it,I l am crazy about festivals irrespective of it’s origin and the facts behind it not only mesmerize me but also fills me with zeal of it’s celebration.I loved your post and images you shared to give us a real feel of Onam celebration.Thanks for sharing !!!

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  28. I like your writing style. You can make a complex subject, interesting. That apart I also like your blog name and the catchline....thanks for the informative piece. Very detailed, yet fun to read.

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  29. I knew the mythological story part thanks to grandmaa and flower carpet growing bigger. But the importance of flower carpet in the festival was new.

    I feel the return of MAhabali also says that the good work done for benefit of people is appreciated for long. The king though born in Asura clan was kind and benevolent, have all the rights to be remembered and loved.

    It was a witty post:)

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  30. Wow.. its a beautiful post. I just loved the way u have described even the smallest detail of the festival celebrated.

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  31. What a delightful read! I love that the most auspicious day is when the feasting begins - the best reason to celebrate anything!

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  32. Indeed an informative post. I had a very basic idea about why Onam is celebrated, but not thr how. I hope to visit Kerala again soon, preferably during the festival.

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  33. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful article about Onam. I had no clue why it is celebrated ... Loved reading it !

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  34. Being in Cochin its hard to escape Onam for me! It was great information regarding the ten days of Onam. I am having Onam Sadya's everyday!

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  35. I always thought that Onam was a harvest festival Great to know the mythology behind it and the exuberance with which it is celebrated

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  36. the festival is so beautiful well explained in every step the food the festival tradition evry thing is like stealing heart.

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  37. Great and informative post, I must say. I didn't know the tale behind the festival all these years.

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  38. Thank you for sharing the Legend behind the festival. Loved the way u connected Trump and other current affairs with the story. The 20 dish platter had all my attention.
    #wordsmithkaurreads #BlogChatter #MyFriendAlexa

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  39. This was like a small little Wikipedia. It is so interesting to read about other cultures are festivals, you realise that somewhere down the line we are all similar.

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  40. Amazing piece. While reading, it appeared to me as if i was watching the Discovery Channel showcasing the Onam festival. You have a unique style and i was impressed with the ease with which you managed to explain about the festival so beautifully.

    it was a real treat reading your post :)

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  41. Wow! I had no idea... Now I know my neighbors a little better

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  42. Amazing piece. While reading, it appeared to me as if i was watching the Discovery Channel showcasing the Onam festival. You have a unique style and i was impressed with the ease with which you managed to explain about the festival so beautifully.

    it was a real treat reading your post :)

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  43. The tale behind Onam is very intriguing indeed I didnt know King was a asura king. But its cool to know that he was a good man. I love onam sadya.

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  44. Being a Malayalee, I'm well versed with Onam. Okay, well, I didn't know which event starts on which day but I know the basics. You get the drift! But I loved reading this post. Most of all, I loved your writing style! Great job, Dr. Roshan!

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  45. I loved your writing so much that I subscribed immediately. Hoping for learn from you. Wonderful post. I have many Malayali friends nad they would be super proud of this post.🙏 Bug thanks from Their side. #damurureads #myfriendalexa

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  46. I loved your writing so much that I subscribed immediately. Hoping for learn from you. Wonderful post. I have many Malayali friends and they would be super proud of this post.🙏 Big thanks from Their side. #damurureads #myfriendalexa

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  47. I love thefestival of Onam. I love it for the feast at my Malyalam friends' places. I really miss those treats of Onam Sadya. And simply miss the bestest Dal payassam made by my friend's dad. It was the gokden time of free lunches at friends' places. And I love it the most.

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  48. Onam is one of the most celebrated festivals of India and thank you for such a detailed post on this festival

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  49. Back in Bengaluru, my Kerala friends used to bring Kerala special foods to the office. At least for that sake I used to wait for Onam :D

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  50. Lovely Post... And quite informative as well.... Also must say enjoyed all teh pics in the post...

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  51. Such an amazing post on this beautiful festival Onam. Thanks for sharing it with us. Being a north Indian, I was partially unaware of the reason behind this festival. But now I am full. :D

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  52. I always enjoy reading mythology tales... And I am so happy to come across this detailed post on onam...loved your writing specially those braced lines... Definitely checking out the sadya post ..

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  53. Thank you so much for explaining in detail I was wondering about the stars. And their relations.
    #tmmreads #myfriendalexa

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  54. Never knew so much about Onam. Thanks for writing, doc.
    #ReadByPRB

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  55. Honestly now I know why Onam is celebrated. thanks for sharing this

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  56. I have always been impressed by your writing skills but this time the touch of sarcastic humour entwined with this mythological tale left me smiling and chuckling throughout. Being a social studies teacher and friends to many Keralites I am well aware of the traditions and story behind this beautiful festival. The only thing I wish to know is why the ladies wear the cream coloured saree with golden border. Is there any particular reason behind it?

    #readbypreetispanorama

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  57. I really like your writing skill thanks for the post. Keeps doing.

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  58. Everyone have to know about our festivals and why it is celebrate? thanks for spreading the informational post.

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  59. festivals is very important part of every person so we all have to know about the why it celebrated and what is the rule of that festival. thanks for the post.

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  60. Your post is very helpful, Now i all understand about the festival.

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  61. This post is very interesting and informative. It describe the value of festival and explain the story behind the reason why we celebrate a festival.

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  62. This is really informative post. I was totally unaware of the "Onam". Great to know about the Onam festival. Thank you so much for sharing this post about aware to everyone "Onam" festival.

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  63. Wow! This is a very interesting story about Mahabali. Now, I am known to behind the reason why we celebrate a festival. Thank you so much for sharing this post.

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  64. Loved the fun way you did it.
    Detailed. Yet concise.
    :)

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  65. Namaste Ji:
    I don't know how did you get this story. This was the story that has spread by the communists who have never touched Srimad Bhagavatam in their life. Their aim is to confuse the mind of Hindus and then want to become atheists like them.
    Srimad Bhagavatam doesn't say anything like this. Srimad Bhagavatam is the Amala puranam, talks about the creation of material world, human race and stories of the Supreme Lord.

    Story of Bali goes like this: Diti asks her husband great Brahmin Kasyapa Prajapati to have sex during the dusk (Sandya samayam) which is an inauspicious time to conceive birth.
    vedabase.io/en/library/sb/3/14
    Later mother Diti begs Kasyapa that her sons should be killed by Lord Vishnu so that they get moksha.

    Later two sons were born to her - Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakasipu.
    The former was killed by Lord Narayana in the form of Varaha to save the world.
    Later Hiranyakasipu started ruling the world and made havoc. He himself declared as the god of this world. But young Prahlada advised him that there is no one other than Lord Hari is the Supreme God, and later Lord Narasimha appears and kills Hiranyakasipu.

    1

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  66. Bali was the grandson of Prahlada Maharaj, a great devotee of the Supreme Lord. When Narasimha Dev appeared, He asks young Prahlad for any benedictions. He said 21 generation - 10 before him and 10 after him should be protected & liberated by Lord Hari. And the Lord Vishnu agrees.

    King Bali, a great bhakta of Lord Vishnu was blessed by Prahlad Maharaj and later ruled the whole earth and Indra Loka because of his pious activities. He was honored & destined to be in Vaikunta Loka after his life. But by the association of some Asuras (there is nothing called asura by birth but by qualities and behavior. His associates were corrupted Brahmanas), he got corrupted and he started thinking about the power of Indra or ruler of Swarga, which is lower to Vaikunta. Lord Hari realized that His devotee's getting away from Him and it is his duty to protect Bali Maharaj - grandson of Prahlad Maharaj. So Bali Maharaj was doing yagas after yagas to become materially more powerful.He was fooled by his companions and looking for more material powerful positions. This is similar to a highly qualified person who is qualified, honored destined to become the President of India wanted to become the local party secretary, which is the symbol of corruption and asuric life.

    Anyway, Lord Hari decides to save his devotee.Meanwhile, Aditi, Kasyapa Muni's other wife prays to Lord Hari that He should be born in her womb. Lord Vamana appears from the womb of mother Aditi on the 22nd Nakshatra - which Malayalis say - ThiriOnam (Sravana) https://vedabase.io/en/library/sb/8/18/5/
    Lord Hari comes to Yaga sala as Lord Vamana and asks for three steps of land and King Bali obliged. With 2 two steps, He measures the both lower planetary system and the upper planetary system. Bali Maharaj realizes that he was not the owner of whatever positions he had but Lord Hari. So for the third step, he offers his head, which signifies the removal of his false ego and approval of Lord Krshna as his savior.NOWHERE in Srimad Bhagavatam says Lord Vamana pushed him to Hell.
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  67. Read Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 8, Chapter 22. This is what SB says after Bali Maharaj offers his head.
    Text 24: The Supreme Personality of Godhead said about Bali Maharaj: My dear Lord Brahmā, because of material opulence a foolish person becomes dull-witted and mad. Thus he has no respect for anyone within the three worlds and defies even My authority. To such a person I show special favor by first taking away all his possessions.
    Text 25: While rotating in the cycle of birth and death again and again in different species because of his own fruitive activities, the dependent living entity, by good fortune, may happen to become a human being. This human birth is very rarely obtained.
    Text 26: If a human being is born in an aristocratic family or a higher status of life, if he performs wonderful activities, if he is youthful, if he has personal beauty, a good education and good wealth, and if he is nonetheless not proud of his opulences, it is to be understood that he is especially favored by the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
    Text 27: Although aristocratic birth and other such opulences are impediments to advancement in devotional service because they are causes of false prestige and pride, these opulences never disturb a pure devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
    Text 28: Bali Mahārāja has become the most famous among the demons and nonbelievers, for in spite of being bereft of all material opulences, he is fixed in his devotional service.
    Texts 29-30: Although bereft of his riches, fallen from his original position, defeated and arrested by his enemies, rebuked and deserted by his relatives and friends, although suffering the pain of being bound and although rebuked and cursed by his spiritual master, Bali Mahārāja, being fixed in his vow, did not give up his truthfulness. It was certainly with pretension that I spoke about religious principles, but he did not give up religious principles, for he is true to his word.
    Text 31: The Lord continued: Because of his great tolerance, I have given him a place not obtainable even by the demigods. He will become King of the heavenly planets during the period of the Manu known as Sāvarṇi.
    Text 32: Until Bali Mahārāja achieves the position of King of heaven, he shall live on the planet Sutala, which was made by Viśvakarmā according to My order. Because it is especially protected by Me, it is free from mental and bodily miseries, fatigue, dizziness, defeat and all other disturbances. Bali Mahārāja, you may now go live there peacefully.
    Text 33: O Bali Mahārāja [Indrasena], now you may go to the planet Sutala, which is desired even by the demigods. Live there peacefully, surrounded by your friends and relatives. All good fortune unto you.
    Text 34: On the planet Sutala, not even the predominating deities of other planets, what to speak of ordinary people, will be able to conquer you. As far as the demons are concerned, if they transgress your rule, My disc will kill them.
    Text 35: O great hero, I shall always be with you and give you protection in all respects along with your associates and paraphernalia. Moreover, you will always be able to see Me there.
    Text 36: Because there you will see My supreme prowess, your materialistic ideas and anxieties that have arisen from your association with the demons and Dānavas will immediately be vanquished.
    3/3

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  68. You have given a completely false impression of Onam by calling King Mahabali a demon king. Asura does not mean Demon.
    Onam is the oldest festival connecting our link to 12000 years old heritage.

    Check in detail what Onam means to Kerala and India
    ajitvadakayil.blogspot.com/2019/09/onam-our-only-link-to-planets-oldest.html

    Read excerpt below
    ONAM FETIVAL IN KERALA, INDIA .. ONLY KERALA ( DANAVA CIVILIZATION ) CELEBRATE ONAM..

    ONAM FESTIVAL IN KERALA INDIA IS TO CELEBRATE KERALA KING MAHABALI..

    KING MAHABALI WAS BANISHED TO PATALA ( PERU ) BY VISHNUs FIFTH AVATAR , VAMANA, THE BLUE FACED MIDGET BRAHMIN..

    http://ajitvadakayil.blogspot.com/2019/09/onam-our-only-link-to-planets-oldest.html

    MAHABALI AND HIS FATHER VIROCHANA RULED THE WHOLE PLANET..

    WHEN MAHABALI WAS BANISHED TO PERU, HIS AGED FATHER VIROCHANA ( VIRACOCHA ) CAME BACK TO KERALA FROM PERU TO RULE..

    VIROCHANA IS A GOD IN PERU..

    http://ajitvadakayil.blogspot.com/2011/09/why-kerala-does-not-celebrate-diwali-or.html

    MANY PERUVIANS OFFICERS HAVE SAILED UNDER MY COMMAND

    IN PERU PACHACUTI ( MAHABALI ) IS THE SON OF VIRACOCHA, ( VIROCHANA ) THE GOD OF CIVILIZATION. THEY FOUNDED THE INCA CIVILIZATION 12,000 YEARS AGO..

    VIROCHANA BUILT MACHU PICCHU. HE RULED THE WHOLE PLANET..

    READ ALL 5 PARTS OF THE POST BELOW--

    http://ajitvadakayil.blogspot.com/2019/07/secrets-of-12000-year-old-machu-picchu.html

    MAHABALI’S CAPITAL IN INDIA WAS CALICUT- MY HOMETOWN..

    THE CALICUT KINGS HAD BALLS OF STEEL – THEY WERE HONOURABLE MEN.. THE LIKES THIS PLANET HAS AND WILL NEVER SEE IN FUTURE..

    http://ajitvadakayil.blogspot.com/2019/10/perumal-title-of-calicut-thiyya-kings.html

    By
    capt ajit vadakayil

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