A festival the ignorant think of as a harvest festival but in reality is a yearly reminder of a divine PR stunt that went wrong.
Let me tell you what really happened.
Long long time ago, during the times of constant heavenly interventions, there lived a king called Bali (not related to the other monkey Bali who too was screwed by the gods. They don't seem to like the name).
Our King Bali ruled Kerala. (Come to think of it, if the geographical evidence of Ramayana is to be believed, so did the other Bali. Damn, there could be a divine conspiracy here).
Maha Bali as he came to be known was a great king. He was loved by his people. This in itself is a great thing considering mallus don’t like being ruled. They may put up with it but that's just a tactic until each of them figure out how to become the ruler.
During King Bali's time, there were no locks. Why you ask? Because there were no thieves. Yes, contrary to how it might appear now, there was a time when mallus were honest. We didn't need to covet since we lacked nothing. There were no castes and people were treated equally. You just had to fall into the category of being humans. There was no deceit and men always told their wives that their arse looked fat in that dress.
The mallus were so happy with the abundance of food, toddy and great governance that they did away with the gods and worshipped their king instead. This was rumored to be the Tamil influence.
Being gods, this made them feel a tad bit insecure. If humans started becoming good, what purpose will gods serve? It was and still is a valid point. So all the gods went to the big honcho Vishnu for a solution. Vishnu who had a penchant for intervening in human affairs in disguise was delighted to be consulted. This gave him an opportunity to try out a great disguise he had been thinking about while whiling away couple of thousand god years on his 5 headed serpentine sofa cum bed.
So at the behest of his sidekicks, Vishnu dons yet another disguise which he insists on calling Avatars. This time he goes down as Vaman, a Brahman midget. I know that was politically incorrect, but remember this was the times when we were used to calling a spade a spade.
Maha Bali was at that time doing what all kings do when they had a little time in their hands, which was performing a Yagna. This is basically were we throw all sort of things into a fire and chant unpronounceable sentences. This brought out the inner child in us and of course these were the days before the west started making us feel guilty about the global warming they started.
Since Brahmins get their wishes granted (here the story is confusing because I thought all people were treated equally...hmmm), Vaman gets to present his heart’s desire, which turns out to be 3 step of land. Bali, being a mallu, knows a great deal when he hears it and agrees to grant him his desire. That’s when; true to divine nature, Vishnu aka Vaman reveals the card up his dhoti.
He starts growing. This is symbolic of every short person's wish but I am digressing,
Soon he grows out of the stratosphere, and with his head playing for space with the moon, spoke then, in a thunderous voice, "Bali! In my first step, I traversed all of Earth and the Nether worlds. In my second step, I covered the heavens and all the celestial bodies therein. Thus, I have now covered all realms of your dominion. You promised me three paces of land. Tell me where I should place my foot for the third time."
Upon which Bali realized that he been punked.
So he kneels down and offers his head.
And Vishnu squashes him down the netherworld which is not in any way to be misunderstood as Netherland.
Since Vishnu realized that this act could affect his divine image among the mallus, he decides to do a little damage control. So upon the great kings last wish made from the Netherworld, he gets to vacation in Kerala once every year to watch the deterioration of his kingdom on yearly frame by frame basis.
And mallus for centuries lay out the most amazing welcoming party every year for their king's return. Now of course he will have to distract them from the celebrations in Asianet,
Well, that’s Onam for you.
If it wasn't for the Sadya, mallus would have led a procession to the pearly gates. The toddy didn’t help either.
For the popular version of the story please go here