"This day is celebrated as the day when Emperor Bali was both
humiliated and blessed by God, in the Form of Vamana, Sovereign of
the Three Worlds. Bali called himself so, for, he had Bala or power,
more than anyone else. He was saturated with egoism. God came to him,
while he was busy with a Yaga, in the form and guise of a Brahmin
boy, and asked for a gift of just three foot-measures of land. Bali
told him that he could ask for infinitely more riches and lands; but,
the Boy insisted on that tiny gift only. The preceptor of Bali warned
him about the identity and bonafides of the strange mendicant; he
mentioned that he may be God Himself. This made Bali happier, for,
if it was true; he was so mighty that even God came to his door as
a mendicant. Such was the measure of his conceit.
But, when Vamana drew Himself up to cosmic proportions and measured
the entire earth with one foot and the vast expanse of space with
another foot, Bali was humbled; he offered his own head as the third
foot-measure, and let himself be trodden into the nether-world. This
day marks the day when the incarnation of Vamana happened, in order
to teach this lesson that pride meets with doom. Once the ego was
thus suppressed, Bali became cleansed and God blessed him with various
boons. He assured him that He would ever be his guardian. He permitted
him every year, on Onam Day, to come up into the world and see for
himself his empire and receive therefrom the homage of his people.
So, this is the Festival of Vamana's advent as well as Bali's Transformation."
The story of Bali is full of significance, spiritually and otherwise.
The mutual love and regard that prevailed between the ruler and the
ruled made them a composite of the whole. Out of his love for the
people Bali gave a promise to the people, after he had given everything
he had, to Vaman, that once a year he would appear among them to give
them the joy of his presence. The Onam celebration marks the fulfillment
of that promise. The people of Kerala believe that every year on Onam
day, Bali appears in spirit and otherwise in their midst. It is not
easy for people to understand the inner significance and sacredness
of this celebration. It can only be understood by those who have full
faith in the power of the Omnipotent Lord."