Happy Onam! Celebrating the coming home of Mythical King ‘Mahabali’

Mangaluru : Onam is the biggest and most important festival of Kerala State. It is a harvest festival and is celebrated with joy and enthusiasm all over Kerala and other parts of the country by people of all communities. This festival is celebrated all over the world wherever Malayalees are there. According to a popular legend, the festival is celebrated to welcome the King Mahabali, whose spirits is said to visit Kerala during the time of Onam days.

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It’s that time of the year when the entire country gears up to savour the gastronomic brilliance that simmers in the local households of Kerala. With Onam, not only Kerala but people from across the nation garner an appetite for Onam Sadhya. While one can see grand feasts organized in almost every nook and corner of God’s own country, the rest of India looks forward to going to restaurants serving special Sadhya meals. Just in case you are resolved to visit your nearest restaurant serving Onam Sadhya or are invited by a Malayali friend for some authentic feasting, it’s time to get your Sadhya eating etiquettes in place.

A typical Sadhya thali exhibits an array of preparations which can go up to 24 dishes. There is also a scientific reason associated with the manner of plating and starting your meal, and not knowing what is what or from where to start can get you a little flushed in the face. Just before I tell you about the different components of a typical Sadhya meal, here’s a little background about the festival, the importance of the grand Sadhya meal and everything under the sun that one should know about the auspicious festival.

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Onam is a festival that celebrates the annual visit of the mythical king Mahabali who once ruled the modern day Kerala. Every year, in honour of the King, thousands of Malayalis across the world get together to celebrate in all grandeur. Food is usually the centre of all celebrations. The festival also showcases the bountiful harvest of the region, and the locals enjoy four days of state holiday and an overall 10 days of ongoing celebrations. From traditional dance, music performances, snake boat races to thorough cleaning, decoration of houses and of course, cooking elaborate meals – there is a sea of activities that are carried out as a way to commemorate the festival.

Onam celebrations are incomplete without wearing the traditional outfits. Set orkesav sarees (white sarees with golden border) for women and mundu (white dhoti with golden border) for men. About the decorations, Athapookolam -just like every other festival, Onam festivities also call for house cleaning and decorations. You will not find a single Malayali household without flower arrangements, also known as athapoo. They are beautifully created on the floor outside the houses and are similar to rangolis. There are many athapoo making competition held during this period. Onam festivities also include other activities such as traditional dance performances like Pulikali, Kaikottikali, Kathakkali, and Kummati Kali. Apart from these, there are a series of snake boat races (Vallamkali) that are organized. Some people also sing traditional Onam songs, called Onappatt.

About The Grand Meal, Onasadhya is one of the most essential features of the festival. Meticulously prepared and even fastidiously plated, the entire arrangement exhibits a potpourri of different flavours – from sweet and salty to sour and spicy. There are papadams, sweet and sour pickles, tangy pachadis, dal preparations, spicy curries and of course, payasams and Ada pradhaman for dessert. The plating of Onam Sadhya starts with the banana leaf which is always positioned with its tapering end facing towards the left. Essentially, you have eight different kinds of preparations – dals, curries, pickles, pachadis, payasams, rice and so on – with each having multiple variants served on your plate.” In olden times all eight preparations had up to eight different varieties served for Sadhya, making it to a grand total of 64 delectable dishes on your banana leaf!

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The first course comprises rice, dal(parippu) along with ghee followed by rice with sambar. The third course includes rice withrasam and pulishery followed by rice with curd/buttermilk. Then comes payasam and Ada Pradhaman. When it comes to desserts, many start the meal with it, most have it in between the meals and others finish off on a sweet note. There are a handful of semi-dry preparations that are served at the beginning itself for you to keep consuming them throughout the meal. These usually include cabbage thoran,avial, pachadis, curries made of red pumpkin (erishery) and bhindi (vendakai kichdi). You also have some salt and a banana placed on your banana leaf along with spice coated and jaggery coated banana chips.

One of the most interesting things is the folding of the banana leaf once you are done. You should fold it completely from top to bottom and pull it towards yourself if you have had a happy meal. If the leaf is pushed further from oneself, it indicates that the meal was not satisfying.

What’s what?
– Salt
– Rasam
– Sambar
– Banana
– Plain curd
– Rice with ghee
– Pappadam – papad
– Sambharam – buttermilk
– Olan – White pumpkin curry
– Upperi – salted banana wafers
– Kaalan – Raw banana curry cooked in coconut
– Parippu or Neiparippu – dal based preparation
– Erisherry – Essentially made with red pumpkin
– Pickles (mango pickle, kari naranga pickle, etc)
– Thoran – Dry cabbage curry cooked with coconut
– Avial – Semi dry preparation made with mixed vegetables
– Pulisherry – curry made with vegetables, curd and coconut
– Vendakkai Kichdi – fried okra cooked with curd and coconut
– Puli inji – Curry made from ginger, green chillies and jaggery
– Sharkara Varatti – Banana slices, deep fried and jaggery coated
– Ada Pradaman – Rice flakes cooked with jaggery and coconut milk
– Moru Kootan – Tomato and onion curry cooked with curd and coconut
– Pineapple Pachadi- Curd based accompaniment prepared with pineapples
– Payasam (kheer type desserts cooked with different ingredients like milk,jaggery,vermicelli)

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