If you've made a trip down south and reveled in the grand Onam festivities then you'll know why Kerala is often referred to as 'God's Own Country. Onam is basically 10 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 during Onam and celebrate it 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 snake 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.
Besides all the festivities, the other great attraction during Onam is the Onam Sadhya, a 26 dish vegetarian feast which is served on the 10th day of Onam. Sadhya in Malayalam, means a banquet.
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 Sadya 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 avial and kuttu curry are served.
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.