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onam’s legend

CAS for Database

Aieshah Ashfer

Albertson, NY, USA

Herricks High School


onam’s legend

our king is coming. so embellish your

children and clean the rims around the

home. he will finally arise from the under

world to greet our people once again.

let him grace the rice paddies once

more. eat the food of your ancestors

colorful curries adorned in a banana

leaf and sing their songs to let yourself

be his people just one more year.

mahabali is coming.

before my great grandmother had

ever placed her soles on this land

before smog and floods and before

the backwaters soured came a king.

mahabali. to rule this ground to blow

breath into and to seed in it virtue and

prosperity to feed it his blood so the

plush rice could regenerate and grow.

all the subjects in his kingdom adorned

him and celebrated him. he was loved

by all and in a sense impenetrable.

he was the revered king, loved by

both the smiles of the children and the

dark eyes of the soil beneath him.

it was said that he was the epitome of

justness. as long as he ruled the land

all beings lived as one being. however,

his rule and his greatness would not be received

by all. his fame and goodness would make him

subject to bitter envy. for jealousy from gods,

lord vishnu & the devas, would lead to darkness.

on a day with a beating sun king mahabali

sees a frail boy praying of course his stern

benevolence wills him to ask the boy

what do you desire? the boy asked for

a piece of land that could be covered in

three steps. mahabali agrees, and as the boy

begins to take his first step and he begins to swell.

growing into a giant as he takes one, two,

steps to cover the entire body of kerala. mahabali

realizes this is no regular boy–this is the

work of the gods, this is lord vishnu at play.

seeing that there is no more land free

for the lord’s third step, mahabali offers his head

and vishnu plunges him down into the under

world to live. he makes one feeble request.

he asks to have one day a year to see his people

once again. onam is born, and one day a year,

mahabali comes out from the deep to finally

see his subjects. his arrival brings together entire

factions of kerala, all religions, colors, and creeds.

my grandmother picks out a fresh

set of waxy banana leaves from the

lip of the backwaters where the clay and

sand kiss the water. she bounces in the

kitchen powered by the breeze and the

reminder of our guest. rice is washed,

spices are ground, curry is stirred.

to plate, she decorates the banana leaf

with the curries of beetroot, coconut,

black eyed peas, seasonal melons.

our house is scrubbed. folk dances

performed by strangers and neighbors

leave a tangible magic in the air

that spreads around the community

and we are all preparing, all purging,

all making ourselves ready for the

annual and timely arrival of our

great king mahabali.

onashamsakal (best wishes for the festival of onam)


I love how (the author intertwines) this myth with a personal story as well. Painting this picture of the origins of this cultural festival, so vibrant and rich, makes the poem all the more evocative and poignant. (The author's) command over the narrative is very well done. (The author crafts) the story with such precision, transitioning between the past and the present seamlessly.


Aieshah Ashfer is a senior at Herricks High School. You’ll find her arranging all the images, colors, shapes, ideas, and thoughts in her head into poems, prose, and stories. When she's not writing, she's learning about black holes, hoping to go deep-sea diving again, or taking ambitious trips to thrift stores in New York City.

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