Spiritual Significance of Onam festival – Bhakti is Complete Surrender to Supreme


People make all kinds of offerings to God. But the greatest of them is to offer oneself. That is what Mahabali or King Maveli did. Emperor Mahabali surrendered totally to the Supreme.

According to Srimad Bhagavatham, when Shukracharya, Mahabali's adviser and Guru, tried to warn and stop him by suggesting that Vamana is Lord Vishnu , Mahabali told Shukracharya
"Guruji, what is the use of me possessing anything which is not of use to God? The seeker is God Himself. God has really no desires, but to redeem us from the consequences of our past deeds, He creates situations, which call for offerings.
When the infinite Divine appears in the role of the seeker, what greater blessing can there be than making the offering to the Divine? I do not seek any greater blessing than this. I am ready to offer my mind, my body and my life itself to God. There is no greater fortune than this"

Bali is such an example of Bhakti and supreme sacrifice. Remember that the term ‘Bali’ has several meanings such as: offering, dedication and sacrifice.

Ancient sages, probing the mystery of the Divine, came to the conclusion that God is everything and no one can claim anything as one's own. However, today everyone claims everything as ‘theirs’. We are immersed in a false and foolish concept of ownership. 

Possessiveness is rampant in our every thought and action. And this leads to selfishness and ego.

King Mahabali was renowned for his charitable nature but his ego gradually became inflated because of this fame. For the king to become enlightened, his ego had to be quelled. And that is the substance of the Vamana Avatara. By placing His Lotus Feet on Mahabali's head, Vamana facilitated total surrender of this devotee and made him immortal and the king of the netherworld.

And Onam reminds us of this profound truth that nothing belongs to anyone. All that was got or spent in between are mere passing clouds and gifts from God. And when we realize that truth, we surrender everything to Him with utmost sincerity.

Onam also reminds us that divinity should be installed in the heart. ‘Vastra’ is one of the names for the heart. Wearing new clothes (Vastra) during Onam means purifying the heart.

When the heart is pure the Divine elects to dwell in it. Devotion has five qualities and nine paths to adore the Divine. These nine paths begin with listening to the glories of God (Sravanam) and end with complete surrender (Atmanivedanam). And Bali showed us the height of true Bhakti as complete surrender.

(Source: Excerpts from an editorial in Navaneetham August 2006 edition – the monthly magazine of Guruvayur Sri Krishna Temple.)