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Kerala,Keralachat,Malayalam,Malayalam Music,Keralam,India,KeralaVoiceChat,Kerala Map
Kerala,Keralachat,Malayalam,Malayalam Music,Keralam,India,KeralaVoiceChat,Kerala Map
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Obviously, these two versions of the Mahabali-legend represent the conquest of the non-Aryan Keralites by the Aryans on the battlefield and in the field of religion.  The Aryans and their gods triumphed over the Keralite gods; instead of completely banishing their gods to the realm of non-being, the Brahmins demonized one god, Mahabali, and accepted Shiva, the God of Bali. Keralites, on the other hand, would not consider their god Bali a demon, but rather a vanquished god and popular ally.

There is a third version of Bali retained by the Mundas of Central India, the cousins of the Keralites.  This version is untouched by the theology of the Aryan Brahmins. The Cheras of the Chotanagpur region, the ancestors of Keralites, had a great king called Bali who governed the Dinajpur area; he was an Asur. He did not worship Vishnu, the Aryan God.  He continued to worship the native Munda God, Lord Shiva.  Bali introduced the severe mode of worship in which the votary is swung around, while suspended from a lever by iron hooks which are passed through the skin of the back.  He spent a thousand years in this penance and obtained the favor from Lord Shiva that no god (Aryan) should ever have the power to kill him. 

While the king was reigning in great glory, Anirudha, the grandson of Krishna, the King of Brindaban and Mathura, came in disguise to his court and seduced his daughter Usha.  The young man was arrested and thrown in prison.  In order to liberate his grandson, Krishna came with a great army and defeated Bali; the young man was released and was allowed to marry Usha.  King Bali's city was destroyed by Krishna's barbarian army later in an unprovoked battle.  According to the Munda and Santal traditions, it was an Aryan Kharwar Chief by the name of Madhu Das who attacked them at night and drove them to the fortresses of Vanchi (Vindhya) Hills (the future name of Kerala) for their refusal to bestow the hand of one of their girls on the son of Madhu Das. These legends show that Mahabali, the Chera king of the Munda race and worshipper of Shiva, was defeated by Krishna, the Vishnu-worshipper. 

The Mahabali-story of the Keralites, in the Munda-Chera tradition, indicates the triumph of the Vaishnavite brand of Aryans over the Shiva-worshipping Munda-Cheras.  King Bali is immortal and therefore a god; though he is defeated, he is still alive.  It is this once-and-future king Bali whom Keralites commemorate in the Onam festival Bali is also called Ban (is Onam named after Ban?). Further, Bali/Balia is a common personal name among the Mundas.  The name appears later as Mahabali and Maveli in the South where the Cheras settled down.  In the Tamil Sangam-work, Puram (234), Maveli appears as the Vellala chief of Milalaikurram who was very wealthy and generous:  "The gates of the mansion were never closed and he never sat to meals except with a large company." He died of wounds received in battle fighting against the Pandyan King Nedumchelyan (Puram 233). 

Mahabali is remembered thus in another folk story in Tamil Nadu; in this story the enemies of Bali are Tamils.  There are places bearing Bali's name in Tamil Nadu like Mahabalipuram and in Kerala like Mavelikkara.  The purpose of this discussion on the legends of Onam has been to indicate a well-known folklore truth that there is a historical nucleus to most myths and legends and that they undergo many changes in the passage of time, during the migration of ethnic groups.  My contention is that Mahabali was a great ancient Munda-Chera King, a Shiva-worshipper, who was defeated by the Vishnu-worshipping Aryans.

Mahabali is still remembered fondly by the Keralites, the descendants of the Munda-Cheras, as the British remember the legendary King Arthur who fought against the invading Anglo-Saxons in the fifth century in Britain.  Arthur is called rex quondam atque futurus ("the once and future king").  Mahabali is exactly that for the Keralites.  For them he is also a Santa Claus or Father Christmas; someday, like King Arthur and Jesus Christ, Mahabali will return in glory, and the defeated Chera culture will rise in glory like the phoenix from its ashes.


This is another national festival.  It falls on the Thiruvathira day in Dhanu (December-January).  This concerns the Nair women and is said to commemorate the death  of Kama Deva, the Cupid of Indian mythology, who was destroyed by burning flames from the third eye of God Shiva, when Kama Deva tried to distract Shiva from his austerities by turning his affection to Uma Parvati. In the morning of Thiruvatira day, the young women bathe in the ponds and sing Thiruvathirapattu.  These songs are accompanied by regular splashing of water, symbolical of breast-beating at the death of Kama Deva.  After the bath, the women dress themselves in their best, worship in the temple, and make wishes for love and marriage.  They return home to enjoy the uzhinjal or uunjal (a home-made swing of bamboo suspended on two ropes from a tree).  The sumptuous family dinner is held at noon; fried bananas and sweets are passed around to complete the celebrations.




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