Thiruvananthapuram: With Kerala’s most colorful festival Thiru Onam just a couple of days away, prices of flowers for decorating homes with floral carpeting, an age-old custom of Malayalis to welcome their mythical King Mahabali, has shot up manifold.
These days, Kerala relies mostly on neighboring states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh for supply of truckloads of flowers to meet the festival demand.
The legend behind Thiru Onam is linked to ‘Asura’ (demon) king Mahabali, under whose reign everyone lived in happiness and equality. Jealous of him the ‘Devas’ (Gods) prevailed on Lord Vishnu to get him banished into the netherworld.
The Lord took the form of “Vamana,” a small brahmin boy, and approached Mahabali and requested a land - although only as much as he could cover with three paces. Bali granted this boon. Vamana then grew to a huge size and, with his first pace, traversed all of Earth and underworld. With his second, he covered heaven. Admitting defeat and seeing that Vamana has no more room for his last step, Mahabali offered his head as a stepping-stone.
Bali was thus banished to the underworld. But before going down, he secured a boon from Lord Vishnu to visit his subjects every year on Thiru Onam day in ‘Chingam’ month.
His annual visit is celebrated by Keralites who deck their front yards with floral carpets and partake a sumptuous feast. Colorful flowers such as gomphrena (‘Vadamalli’ in local parlance), crossandra (Kanakambaram), marigold (jamanthi) and chrysanthemum (arali) are on high demand during the season.
Local flower merchants bring the flowers from towns like Thovala in Kanyakumari district in Tamil Nadu and Gundalpet in Karnataka, where flowers are cultivated on a commercial scale.