One can easily understand why Kerala is called the 'God's own country' if one has made a trip down south and reveled in the Onam festivities. Ten days of feasting followed by traditional boat races, singing, dancing and merriment, with a lot of joy and vigour.
Celebrated during the harvest months of late August and early September, Onam marks the homecoming of Mahabali, a mythical king whose reign was considered a golden era of Kerala. People in Kerala make elaborate preparations and celebrate with great enthusiasm. The word 'Onam' refers to the rice harvest in Kerala.
One of the most enthralling tradition of the Onam celebration is Vallamkali, the snake boat race. Dressed boats are oared by hundreds of boatmen over the river Pampa. These snacke boats are called 'Chundans'. Men also compete in rigorous sports like Ambeyyal (archery) and Attakalam (combats) as a part of the tradition. Homes are adorned with exquisite flower carpets called 'Pookalam'. People also apply rice flour batter on the main entrance of their homes as a welcoming gesture. The cities brim with fabulous fireworks turning the state into an absolute paradise.
The rich cultural heritage of the state is exhibited in its best form during these ten festive days. The main attraction of the festival is Onamsadya, a grand feast prepared on Thiruvonam, the final day that culminates the 10 day carnival. It is a complete course of meal served with a variety of 24 to 28 authentic dishes. Sadya, in Malayalam, means a banquet. It is a multi course vegetarian meal.
Most of the Malayali homes in Kerala lay out a princely spread. People sit cross-legged on a mat laid on the floor to relish Onamsadya or Onasadya that is served on banana leaves, a traditional way to eat in the Kerala state. There is a popular Malayali saying, "Kanam Vittu Onam Unnanam", which means "We should have the Thiruvonam lunch even if it costs us to sell our properties".
There is even a distinct order in the way the food is served on the banana leaf. Pappadum is placed on the extreme left of the leaf. On the top of the big pappadum, banana is served. Starting from the right of the papad, salt, sarakarapuratti and banana wafers are placed. Only after this, ginger lime and mango pickles are served on the leaf. On the right, 'cabbage thoran' is served. Finally aviyal and kootu curry are served.
Related recipes -
Kerala Vegetable Stew
Rice is served only after the guests are seated in front of the leaves. Only two spoons of rice is considered enough for the sumptuous feast. Ghee is drizzled generously over the rice. Rice is the main dish served with a number of side dishes and curries which are collectively called Kootan. Poured over the rice are dishes like pulissery, sambhar and rasam.
Related recipes -
Raw Mango Rasam
Ulava Chaaru - Andhra Style Rasam
Arachu Vitta Sambar
The second round begins with serving one more spoon of rice along with desserts like kadala payasam, paal payasam, etc. Payasam is a kheer like dessert made with varied ingredients. The final round is served with rice and buttermilk. This marks the end of serving the dishes. The food is eaten with hands without the use of any cutlery. The opulent meal is followed by vettila murukkan, chewing a betel leaf with lime and arecanut.
6 different versions of 'Payasams'.
Coconut Banana Fritters
Thenga Choru (Coconut Rice)
Marut Sikka's Coconut Rice
Although this festival is based on the Hindu mythology, it is now celebrated by all people of all class and creed. This glorious festival also depicts the secular character of the state!