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Meaning Of Onam

"Onam means wearing new clothes. The 'Vastra' not only means cloth but also means heart. Therefore, the significance of wearing new clothes (Vastra) is that one should make the heart new by getting rid of all bad thoughts and feelings." Sai Baba, SS, 10/92. p. 232

Purpose Of Onam Celebration

"This day (Onam) is the sacred day when the Lord as Vamana Avatar conferred liberation on Emperor 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." Sai Baba, SS. 10/97, p. 269

Mythological Background

"Kashyapa and his two wives, Diti and Aditi, were the parents of demons and demigods (Asuras and Devas). Indra, the king of Devas, went on war with the king of Asuras, as it was a common practice in those days, for one king to invade the kingdom of another to acquire additional territory. Mahabali vanquished Indra in the war and proceeded to annex the territory of Indra and occupied his capital Amaravati. Kashyapa had gone to the Himalayas to do penance. Lamenting over the defeat other son, Indra, Aditi was in great grief. When she was wailing, Kashyapa came to her. Instantly he was able to recognise the cause other grief by divine insight, which he had acquired as a result of his penance. He consoled his wife Aditi saying that nothing happens in the world without God's will and people should go on doing their duties. He asked her to pray to Lord Narayana and taught her a Vrata (ritual) to be followed strictly, known as Payovrata.


It has to be observed from the twelfth day of the bright half Kartika (Sukla-paksha Dwaadasi). She observed the Vrata as prescribed. A devotee's sincere prayer will never go to waste. Since she carried out the Vrata with a pious heart, Narayana appeared before her and informed her that he would himself take birth in her womb and help Indra. Aditi was very happy. True tolhe word of the Lord, she gave birth to a son of uncommon effulgence on the twelfth day of the bright half of the month of Bhadrapada. That child was 'Vamana-murti'. Even as a child. He demonstrated his divine power by doing marvellous deeds.

Mahabali was performing an Ashwa-medha Yagna (horse sacrifice). He had previously performed a hundred such Yagnas. He declared that he would give anything that anyone sought from him during this Yagna. Vamana came to the Yaga-shala. As he was approaching them, the sages assembled there perceived the extraordinary effulgent form of the young lad. Mahabali went forth to receive the Brahmin boy with all traditional honours and gave him an eminent seat befitting the status of a holy person. Bali told him:

'Master! It is my good fortune that you have chosen to honour me with your presence. Whatever you desire, I am here ready to fulfill the same.' Vamana smiled and said: 'You need not give me anything great It is enough if you give me that extent of land covered by three footsteps of mine.'

On hearing him, Bali's preceptor, Shukracharya, who could have vision of the future, told Bali that the one, who had come to seek a gift from Bali was not an ordinary Brahmin but Lord Narayana Himself who had assumed this form. He advised Bali not to promise the lad anything. But Bali was a king who would never go back on his word and told his Guru that he would never break his promise. He was determined to give Vamana whatever he wanted since breaking one's word was a sin and he had to keep his pledge. Shukracharya insisted that he should not fulfill the demand of Vamana as he had come to deprive Bali of all His possessions. He said that Vamana was not really in need of anything as everything was in his hands.

Bali, however, was determined to honour the word given to Vamana, begged pardon of his Guru for disregarding his advice. Earlier, while Bali was embarking on the war with Indra, he had prostrated at the feet of his preceptor, Shukracharya, and on his advice he performed the Vishwajit Yagna from which he secured very powerful weapons. It was only because of Shukracharya's help that he was able to conquer Indra. On this occasion, Bali was not prepared to heed the advice of the same preceptor. Shukracharya cursed Bali, saying: "As you have not heeded your Guru's words, you will be reduced to ashes.' Bali was firm and replied: ' I am prepared to face any consequence but will not go back on my word."

So saying, he told Vamana to measure the three feet of land as desired by him. All attempts of Shukracharya to dissuade Bali from offering the land desired by Vamana proved futile. Bali told his Guru: "Prana (life) and Maana (honour) are the two eyes of a person. Even if life goes, honour should be protected. Granting that the person that has come now is the Lord Himself. I should be the most fortunate one as the Lord. who gives everything to mankind, is seeking something from me." Sai Baba, SS. 10/94. pp. 269 & 270

Emperor Bali And His Ego

"Emperor Bali did undertake all sacred activities, but he had in him two bad qualities, ego (Ahamkaram) and pride (Abhimanam)." "No doubt. Emperor was a great devotee, but he was also egoistic. Ego is a bad quality for a devotee. Only through love, peace, humility and courage you can overcome ego. God came down to destroy the ego of Bali and distribute love to the entire world. Bali was granted a boon that he should be allowed to come and visit his people on this day, every year. That day is celebrated as Onam. Be it an emperor or an ordinary person, one can attain God only through love." Sai Baba. SS. 10/98, p. 262

Ball's Family Background

"Bali was very good ruler who was very much concerned about the welfare of his subjects. He was the son of Virochana and grandson of Prahlada. They were both devotees of Narayana. Prahlada was very happy and appreciated the good fortune of his grandson Bali when Narayana himself sought a gift from him. He blessed Bali that he had kept the noble tradition and name of the family. It is only by sacrifice that one can attain immortality and not by any other means." Sai Baba. SS. 10/94, p. 270

"Bali's father, Virochana, was also a godly ruler. Thus, from Prahlada to Bali, the whole line of rulers were filled with love of God. They were influenced by the Divine power. Originally, Prahlada's father, Hiranyakashipu, was Lord Vishnu's gatekeeper. Whatever their differences in behaviour and attitudes, all three (Prahlada, Virochana and Bali) were equally inspired by devotion to God." Sai Baba, SS, 10/95, p. 263


"Know the full story of Prahlada (grandfather of Bali). If you have to name anyone for his highest character, it is Prahlada alone.

Once, Indra conquered Prahlada and enjoyed Swarga (the realm of gods). Later, Prahlada overcame Indra and deprived him of Swarga. Indra was forlorn and sought the advice of his high-priest for winning back his kingdom. The priest told him that Prahlada was performing a great Yaga called 'Vishwajit' and Indra should assume the form of Brahmin and seek a gift from Prahlada. Prahlada will give whatever one seeks from him. Indra went to Prahlada in the guise of a poor Brahmin. Prahlada welcomed him and asked him what he wanted. As advised earlier by his high priest, he asked Prahlada to give him 'Sheelam' (character). Prahlada enquired of the Brahmin of what use was his character to the seeker. The Brahmin replied that there was no need to go into all that. He had expressed what he wanted in response to Prahlada's offer to give whatever anyone asked at the Vishwajit sacrifice. 'Are you prepared to give or not?' Prahlada immediately gave what the Brahmin asked with due ceremony.

Within a few minutes, an effulgent flame emerged from Prahlada. Seeing the effulgent form, he asked: 'Who are you?' The effulgent figure prostrated before Prahlada and said, 'I am your character. Hitherto, I was in you. I fostered your name and fame. Now you have given me away as a gift. Hence, I am leaving you.'

When the 'character' left Prahlada, shortly thereafter another beautiful effulgent form issued forth from Prahlada. Prahlada asked him, 'Who are you ? Oh, King!' The radiant figure replied, 'Prahlada! I am your reputation (Keerti). When character has left you, I have no place within you. Hitherto I was servant of character. When character has left you, I have to follow suit.'

Prahlada was puzzled. Then came another radiant female form from Prahlada. Prahlada respectfully asked her,' Mother! Who are you?' 'Prahlada! After the departure of Character and Reputation, namely, Rajyalakshimi (the goddess of royal prosperity) I have no place with you.' Indra, who had come in the form of a Brahmin, took all the three with him.

That very moment, Prahlada lost his kingdom. You can see from this how one's fame and prosperity are dependent on one's character. Character is a supremely divine quality.

Prahlada was the embodiment of character. After Indra had taken away his character from Prahlada, the latter got married and had a son by name Virochana. You may realise from this episode what importance is attached to character in the spiritual process" Sai Baba, SS, 10/96, p. 261

Prahlada As Judge

"Once, there was a contest between Virochana, the son of Prahlada, and Sudhanva, the son of sage Angiras. It was agreed that whoever lost the contest should forfeit his life to the winner. Both of them prayed to Prahlada to act as the judge for the contest, being convinced that he would be totally impartial and fair. Prahlada agreed to act as judge because he was pledged to uphold truth, without any other consideration. After watching the contest, Prahlada declared Sudhanva as the winner and his son, Virochana, as the loser.

Unable to control his joy over the verdict, Sudhanva embraced Prahlada and said:

'Prahlada! It is because of the unflinching upholders of truth like you that the world shines in all its glory. If there were no meritorious people on earth, how can there be light in the world? Prahlada! Because of your adherence to truth, you gave the verdict against your son.' Prahlada knew that whoever lost the contest should forfeit with his life. But that did not deter him from pronouncing the verdict against his son. "There is no greater Dharma nan truth.' Prahlada was not swayed by any sense of partial love. He shed no tears. He matched the outcome of his judgment with a sense of fulfillment.

Recognising the utter dedication of Prahlada to truth and righteousness, Sudhanva declared: 'Prahlada! Your devotion to truth will-restore the life of your son. I am not claiming his life (as the reward for my victory). I am giving back your son's life to you.

'Dharmaiva Adhrmo hanti, Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah' (Dharma destroys the one who harms it. Dharma protects its protector). 'Prahlada! You have stood by Dharma, thereby, you have saved your son.' In this manner Sudhanva praised Prahlada." Sai Baba, SS, 10/93, p. 256


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From the book - Festivals at Prasanthi Nilayama - An Exposition by Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba - Compiled and Edited by Suresh C Bhatnagar