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Onam

Onam, the foremost cultural festival of the South Indian state of Kerala, falls towards the end of August or in early September every year. The Onam festivities at Prasanthi Nilayam have a unique charm of their own. The entire Sai Family from the state of Kerala gathers at Prasanthi Nilayam to celebrate the festival in the presence of their Divine Master, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. The sacred day marks the occasion when the mighty Emperor Bali performed the supreme act of surrender to Lord Vamana, the Avatar of Lord Vishnu. The legend goes that Lord Vamana, disguised as a Brahmin, asked Bali for just three paces of land. His first two paces covered the earth and the heavens. And Bali, who would never go back on his word, offered his own head for the Lord to place His Feet on, and thus attained liberation. However, he prayed to Vamana for one last boon – once every year Emperor Bali wished to see his beloved subjects. This day, when Emperor Mahabali comes to visit his people, is celebrated as Onam by the people of Kerala.

The state of Kerala is home to varied and captivating forms of art, music and dances. So, when the people of Kerala gather at the Lotus Feet of Bhagawan on the occasion of Onam, it is indeed a grand cultural feast. Sai Kulwant Hall reverberates to the sound of the Panchavadyam, the traditional music that is played on festive occasions in the temples of Kerala. Reputed singers from Kerala enthrall the audience with their expert renditions of Carnatic musical compositions. The students of the Sri Sathya Sai Vidyapeetham at Srisailam in Kerala usually present a cultural programme on this occasion.

Excerpts from Bhagawan’s Discourses:

“This day is the sacred day when the Lord as Vamana Avatar conferred liberation on Emperor Bali. Bali was a great person, but he had one weakness. He suffered from a slight sense of ego. A great man sees the human even in Lord Narayana (God). But a good man is one who sees God even in man. Hence, it is more important for people to be good rather than great. Most parents these days want their children to become great in various ways - in scholarship, wealth, and position. This is totally misconceived. They should really want their children to be good.

Vamana incarnated to eradicate the undesirable quality of ego in Emperor Bali, Bali was known for his love of his subjects. Poverty was unknown in his realm. He looked after the welfare of his people with an equal eye. He felt proud about his kingdom and his people. Vamana wanted to efface even this pride and redeem Bali.

Before leaving for the nether world, Bali gave a promise to his people, whom he loved. He said he would come back to them every year on Onam day and bless them.

Onam is celebrated as the day of advent of Vamana and Bali. It marks the beginning of a new life. That is why it is celebrated by wearing new clothes and resolving to lead a new life”.

- Divine Discourse: 14th September 1997

"When the Lord, as Vamana, was approaching Emperor Bali's sacrificial ceremony, the Emperor received him reverentially and asked him what he wanted. He said, "I want three feet of ground measured by my feet." Bali said, "Why come all the way to ask for just three feet of ground?" Vamana declared, "That is all I want." The Emperor's preceptor, Sukracharya, warned the Emperor against making the gift, since the seeker was no ordinary person. But the Emperor firmly declared that there is no greater sin than going back on one's promise. He kept his word.

Emperor Bali stands forth as a sterling example of one who stands by his word whatever the circumstances. That is why the people of Kerala worship him to this day and celebrate the festival of Onam in his memory. What is it that is adored today? It is the virtue of truth. Without truth nothing has any value.

Love is the supreme value. It is not worldly love but Divine love that is precious. That Divine love encompasses every other form of attachment to friends and others. Cultivate the enduring friendship of God.

Emperor Bali was prepared to offer everything, including himself, to God. That is his greatness. It is not the gift of mere three feet of land. He offered himself to the Lord. This is the spirit in which Bali surrendered to the Lord”.

- Divine Discourse: 27 August 1996

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