Amritapuri Onam Festival, Pushpa Vanam
The Onam festival is for the children of Kerala, even though for Amma’s children, Her Birthday is the festival. It was only after I came to Amritapuri that I started seeing the Vallamkali; the famous boat race of Kerala.
(Onam is a Kerala festival that celebrates the story of Vamana (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu) and the virtuous King Mahabali. An important aspect of the festival is the creation and display of colorful circular flower designs (“pookalams”) in front of the house or place of business.)
It is not seen in North Kerala where I was born. It is very heartening to see the age-old customs and traditions still maintained and preserved, at least in our villages (around Amritapuri).
The flower designs or pookalam on the verandah in front of the main door of every house is a feast for the eyes. Some of the flowers, which we used to gather in our town during Onam, are no longer seen! Is it because we are slowly losing the true spirit of the Onam festival? Man now has enough knowledge to create new species but unfortunately is not able to preserve the existing species.
The flower design at our main door certainly seems to welcome a very important guest. It is our old virtuous King Mahabali. And Bhagavan Vishnu says, “Where my devotees are, there alone I am.”
(King Mahabali of ancient India was known for his great benevolence, fairness and generosity towards his subjects. He was also an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. You can read more about King Mahabali here.)
So, certainly when Mahabali comes to our house, Bhagavan Vishnu has no choice but to come with Mahabali. And where Bhagavan Vishnu is, there our Mother Mahalakshmi is, so we welcome the devotee along with our universal parents.
The Virtues of King Mahabali
King Mahabali represents two of the most sacred virtues. He was a Daanasheelan—the very embodiment of charity. On Amma’s 50th birthday, our late President Dr. Abdul Kalam said, “Amma knows only one thing—to give and to give and to give and to give!” Secondly, King Mahabali offered himself completely to Bhagavan Vishnu—his position and everything! During arathi in the evening, millions of devotees all over the world chant,
“Than Man Dhan Sab Hey thera, Swami, Sab kuch hey thera”
(O Bhagavan, my body, mind and wealth—everything is yours!)
But how mechanical we are! Mahabali had no hesitation to offer everything to Bhagavan! So, when we welcome Mahabali into our houses during the Onam festival, we are welcoming two of the greatest virtues: charity and total surrender to God!
Learning How to Give
The lives of Mahatmas were and are only for the good of the world! Saint Tulsidas says in his Ramayana that saints, trees, rivers, mountains and the earth are the five best role models of selfless service—giving without any thought of receiving. If we look at flowers, we can learn wonderful lessons from them also.
In a flower garden, flowers exist peacefully, silently, with no thought of, “I am superior, I am more beautiful, my fragrance is the best”. There is no competition among flowers. Let us human beings be like them.
Let us remember the old saying, “Be sublime like the flower which perfumes even the hand that crushes it.
Very difficult for us to practice, yes?
Flowers from the same plant may be used for different purposes: for worship (archana and garlands in the puja rooms and temples), for marriages (as garlands for brides and bridegrooms), and lastly as wreaths and garlands to adorn corpses!
The flowers on the wreaths on corpses do not complain, “Why are other [flowers] taken for worship, and we for corpses?” They think, “This is where God wants us to be!”
Very difficult for us to practice, yes?
Give Like a Flower!
Let us, Amma’s children, try to learn these wonderful lessons from flowers. They bloom, give fragrance and fade away. Amritapuri is a flower garden. On Onam Festival day, Amma asks us to dance when She sings. What Amma sees when we dance is a “flower garden” full of flower plants in full blossom, swaying gently in the wind.
Bandalo Bandalo . . . Bandalo Bandalo Amriteswari . . .
(Here comes our beloved Divine Mother!)
Amma always says, “Children, I am a gardener in a flower garden!”
May we, children of Amma, blossom into a fragrant and beautiful flower garden which attracts bees and birds. Let the entire world come to Amritapuri to share the peace and joy which Amma has given us. Happy Onam Festival!
Author: Swami Amritageetananda Puri
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