the biggest festival in the Indian state of Kerala. It falls during the first
month of the Malayalam calendar which is Chingam (August–September) and marks
the homecoming of the legendary King Mahabali. The festival lasts for ten days
and is linked to many elements of Kerala&prism;s culture and tradition. Intricate
flower carpets, elaborate banquet lunch, snake boat races, Puli Kali, and the kaikottikkali
dance all play a part in the festival.
Carnival of Onam lasts from four to ten days. First day, Atham and tenth day, Thiruonam are most
important of all. Onam is an ancient
festival which still survives in the Modern times. Kerala&prism;s rice harvest
festival and the festival of rain flowers which fell on the Malayalam month of
Chingam celebrated the annual visit from pathalam of the very noble Demon King Maveli.
Onam is unique
since king Maveli is revered by people of Kerala from prehistory.
According to the
legend, Kerala witnessed its golden era during the reign of King Mahabali.
Everybody in the state was happy and prosperous and the king was highly
regarded by his subjects. He was that much highly regarded among the subjects
that even the Gods under Indra became jealous of Mahabali, they approached
Mahavishnu claiming that Mahabali is now equivalent to an Indra.
Since a world
with two Indras represents imbalance, Mahavishnu assumed the form of a dwarf:
the Vamana avatara and tricked him to Pathalam, the Underworld. However, as
Mahabali is equal to an Indra, he is to wait until the next Yuga where he would
be the Indra. In the meantime, with the grace of Mahavishnu, Mahabali visits
his people on an annual basis. Mahavishnu serves Mahabali as a gatekeeper in
the world of Pathalam as the Lord himself serves his greatest devotees.
It is this visit
of Mahabali that is celebrated as Onam every year. People celebrate the
festival in a grand way and impress upon their dear King that they are happy
and wish him well. The rich cultural heritage of Kerala comes out in its best
form and spirit during the ten day long festival.
enchanting feature of Onam is Vallamkali, the Snake Boat Race, held on the
river Pampa. It is a colourful sight to watch the decorated boat oared by
hundreds of boatmen amidst chanting of songs and cheering by spectators.There
is also a tradition to play games, collectively called Onakalikal, on Onam. Men
go in for rigorous sports like Talappanthukali (played with a ball), Ambeyyal
(Archery), Kutukutu and combats called Kayyankali and Attakalam.
Women indulge in
cultural activities. They make intricately designed flower mats called,
Pookalam in the front courtyard of the house to welcome King Mahabali. Kaikotti
kali and Thumbi Thullal are two graceful dances performed by women on Onam.
Folk performances like Kummatti kali and Pulikali add to the zest of
celebrations. Mahabali&prism;s rule is considered the golden era of Kerala.
During the Onam,
Keralite Hindus install an image of Thrikkakara Appan (Vishnu in the form of
Vamana) in their home just as Hindus install images or murtis of Lord Ganesh on the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. This
festival is also important because of its popularity with all communities
within Kerala. Many lamps are lit in Hindu temples of Kerala during this
celebration. A palmyra tree is erected in front of temples and surrounded with
a wooden balustrade and covered with dry palmyra leaves. It is lit with a torch and burned to ashes to signify that Mahabali went to
hell as a sacrifice. Elaborate feasts, folk songs, elegant dances,
energetic games, elephants, boats and flowers all are a part of the dynamic
festival called Onam.
impressive part of Onam celebration is the grand feast called “Onasadya”,
prepared on Thiruonam. It is a nine course meal consisting of 11 to 13
essential dishes. Onasadya is served on banana leaves and people sit on a mat
laid on the floor to have the meal.
A typical onam sadya :
important things about Onam are the onakkodi,
the new clothes worn on this day and onam
sadya, a feast which is quite elaborate. This is usually a feast served
on banana leaves and serves rice along with at least an array of 4 dishes.
Traditional pickles and papadam are also served. Dessert is usually "payasam",
a sweet dish made of milk, sugar and other traditional Indian savories.
Rich and the poor, everybody prepares Onasadya in a grand
fashion as people of Kerala are extremely devotional and passionate when it
comes to Onasadya. So much so that, it has lead to saying, &prism;Kaanam Vittum
Onam Unnanam&prism;. Meaning - men go to the extend of selling all their
possessions for one Onam Sathya.
Rice is the essential ingredient of this Nine Course Strictly Vegetarian Meals. All together there are 11
essential dishes which have to prepared for Onasadya. Number of dishes may at
times also go upto 13. Onasadya is so elaborate a meal that it is called meals, even though it is consumed in
one sitting. Onasadya is consumed with hands, there is no concept of spoon or
Traditional Onam Sadya meal comprises of different varieties of curries,
upperies - things fried in oil, pappadams which are round crisp flour paste
cakes of peculiar make, uppilittathu - pickles of various kinds, chammanthi -
the chutney, payasams and prathamans or puddings of various descriptions.
Fruits and digestives are also part of the meal.
The food has to be served on a tender Banana
leaf, laid with the end to the left. The meal is traditionally served on
a mat laid on the floor. A strict order of serving the dishes one after the
another is obeyed. Besides, there are clear directions as to what will be
served in which part of the banana leaf.
How is it Served :
There is a distinct order of serving the the grand feast of Onam. Pappad or
Pappadum is to be served on the extreme left. On top of the big pappadum banana
is served. The banana can be &prism;Rasakadali&prism;, &prism;Poovan&prism;, &prism;Palayankodan&prism;. From the
right pappad - salt, banana wafers, sarkarapuratti fries are served. After
this, ginger lime and mango pickles are served. Next comes &prism;vellarika&prism;,
&prism;pavakka&prism;, beetroot and &prism;ullikitchadi&prism;. &prism;Kitchadi&prism; made of pineapple and banana
splits or of grapes and apple is served along with this. On the right, &prism;cabbage
thoran&prism; is served. Then comes a thoran made of beans and avil followed by bread
and green peas mix &prism;thoran&prism;. The meal will be complete with the &prism;avial&prism; and
Rice is served when the guests seat themselves and just two big spoons is
considered enough. After this &prism;parippu&prism; and ghee is poured. Then comes Sambhar.
Desserts are to begin with adaprathaman followed by &prism;Kadala Payasam&prism;. This
colourful arrangement on the lush green banana leaf makes the food look even
more tempting and irresistible .
First full course meal is served for Lord Ganapathi in front of a lighted oil
lamp (Nila Vilakku). This is in accordance with the Malayalese trend of
starting everything in the name and presence of God.
Dishes prepared for OnaSadya includes:
This is either prepared from pumpkins/red beans or from yam and raw bananas
cubes. The spices used in this include split green chillies, ground coconut,
cumin seeds, turmeric and red chillies. Erissery is seasoned with mustard seeds
spluttered in oil. This is a main stay for the occasion, though not very
popular these days.
Kalan or Pulisseri
This is prepared from buttermilk. Ingredients consist of sliced
plantains called nenthra-kaya and yams or chena. These are boiled in water with
salt and chillies. It is flavoured with ground coconut and mustard seeds
spluttered in oil. Some even add cucumber cubes to Kalan.
Olan is prepared from sliced cucumber and brinjal. Sometimes pulse is
also added. They are boiled in water with salt and no chillies. When properly
boiled, some fresh coconut oil is poured. The dish is seasoned with flavour
kariveppila (curry leaves).
This is kind of a mixed vegetable as all sorts of available vegetables
are added to it. All vegetables are first boiled in water with salt and
chillies. Tamarind and well ground pulp are added at proper time. Aviyal is
flavoured with coconut oil and Kariveppila.
Thoran is prepared by slicing beetroot and several other vegetables into
very small pieces. These are then boiled in water with some salt and chillies
till all the water dries up. Water can also be strained away. For seasoning,
ground coconut pulp and mustard fried in coconut oil is used.
This resembles olan. It is a special Onam delicacy from the state of
Kerala and has been recently added to Onam Sadhya.
This is a curry consisting of a variety of vegetables and some Bengal
gram. It differs from Aviyal as it does not contain tamarind.
This is an extremely popular recipe from South India and relished by the
whole of India. It consists of dal and a variety of vegetables like brinjal,
drum-sticks, pavakkai (bitter gourd), etc. All vegetables are first boiled in
water with salt and chilies. Tamarind is also added to enhance the taste. Other
spices like coriander, cumin seed etc. are fried in oil and powdered. Sambhar
is flavoured with mustard seeds and asafoetida.
These are types of curry consisting chiefly of cucumber, mustard and
sour butter milk or curds. In Kichchatim, young and tender cucumber is added
This lip smacking recipe is prepared from tomatoes treated with tamarind
juice. It is seasoned with bay leaves and mustard seeds spluttered in oil. Some
people take rasam with rice. Rasam also helps in digestion.
This is an extremely delicious dish and is a sort of pudding. It is
prepared from boiled potatoes mixed with molasses and coconut milk. The mixture
is flavoured with spices. There is another type of payasam called &prism;Pal Payasam&prism;
in which rice is boiled with milk and sweetened with sugar.
There is a whole variety of Prathamans such as ata, pazham, parippu and
A special drink is prepared for Onam in which water is boiled with a
combination of cumin and dried ginger (chukku). This is beneficial from health
point of view.
Upperi or Chips
Upperi is prepared from various things like raw bananas (kaaya), yam
(chena), jack fruit (chakka), bitter gourd (pavayka) and egg plant fruit
(vazhuthanga). Slices of the ingredient are fried in coconut oil to a crisp
These are prepared well in advance of Onasadhya. Pickles are chiefly
made from mango, lemon, ginger, chillies and curry naranga.
These are prepared from black grams and are fried in oil. Pappadams are
usually served in three sizes - small, medium and large.
Chiefly plantain fruits of various kinds are served along with other
articles of food at meals.