Onam, the celebration begins marking the colorful beginning of each Keralite (Malayali) with Happy and Prosperous New Year that happens to be in the month of Chingam (September). It is a ten days Grand gala starting on the day Vinayaka Chathurthi or Atham Nakshathra day and completes on the tenth day of THIRUVONAM day, we all used collectively prepare for Pookalam (the rangoli with flowers), with ‘Onathappan’ (cone in the middle of the Pookalam) and we invite some friends and relatives for a ‘Onasadhya.’ Later on are the cultural activities like Pulikali, Thiruvathirakali and other cultural activities like Valamkali (Boat race) and so on.
A very interesting legendary story associated with Onam festival is God Indra, the son of Kashyapa and Aditi was defeated in a war with Mahabali, the King of Asuras. The demon king – Mahabali – used to rule Kerala. In that time everybody lived in peace and prosperity. All the people were happy about his rule. Seeing this plight of her son, Aditi wailed with grief and pain. Kashyapa asked her to observe the ritual of Payovrata, which had to be started with the twelfth night of the half Karthika. She observed all the rituals pure heartedly. Appeased from her devotion, Lord Narayana appeared before Aditi and promised to help her. He ascended on earth through Aditi’s womb as Vamana. Vamana disguised as Brahman bikshu and approached Mahabali for alms. Mahabali was known for his alms and never say ‘no’ to anyone. Vamana approached Mahabali in disguise asked what he need. Brahmin said that “he has no place to live and needed only ‘three steps of land’ (moonu adi mannu). Mahabali gave him the alms and asked him to measure the land and therefore he measures bhoomi for first, sky for second ask place for third Mahabali bends and bow down his head for third thereby pushing him down to Pathala loka and gave him ‘Vishnu sayujyam’ with a boon of visiting his own people on this day of Onam and on a mark of respect to him we make Floral rangoli and Full sadhya.
The aforementioned story enriches the meaning of Onam and on the ninth day of Onam, the idols are made of sticky clay and are painted red. They are placed on the house after a thorough cleansing and decorations. These idols are called as ‘Trikkakra Appan’. This is a unique structure with four faces and flat top representing Lord Vamana, incarnation of Lord Vishnu and King Mahabali also referred as Onathappan. It is believed that Vamana had sent Mahabali to Pathala at Trikkakra in Ernakulam District of Kerala. The place where the holy feet (Trikkal) of Vishnu touched came to be known as Trikkakra. This later became Trikkakra.
While welcoming King Mahabali to the homes, people place Trikkakra Appan on a bed made of rice flour and is decked with flowers called Athapookalam – the special floral arrangement starts on day of Atham and hence called by name.
Sadhya the Meal
And whether its Rich or poor, everybody prepares Onasadhya in a grand manner as we people of Kerala are extremely devotional and passionate when it comes to Onasadhya. It’s a saying that ‘Kaanam Vittum Onam Unnanam’. Meaning that Men go to any extend of selling all their possessions for one Onam Sadhya.
Earlier, Onasadhya used to be elaborate with about 64 mandatory dishes – eight varieties of each eight dishes. At that time even three banana leaves were not enough to serve and accommodate all the dishes. But now this is a nine course Vegetarian meals with 11-13 essential dishes which is compulsorily sat on floor and consumed on plantain leaf with their hands. Traditional Onam Sadhya comprises of different varieties of curries, fries, pappadams, pickles of various kinds, payasams and prathamans or puddings of various descriptions. Fruits and digestives are also part of the meal.
The food has to be served only on a tender Banana leaf, laid with the end to the left and meal is served on a mat laid on the floor. A strict order of serving the dishes is followed with clear directions of serving in which part of the banana leaf.
Before starting the meal the First full course meal is served to Lord Ganapathi in front of a Lamp. And then served to family members and friends…
How to serve Sadhya:
The distinct order of serving the Grand feast of Onam. First to start with is the salt then is the Pappad on the extreme left. On top of pappad is banana then is the banana chips, sarkarapuratti fries are served. After this is ginger lime and mango pickles are served. Next comes the Pachadi followed by kitchadi. On the right is ‘cabbage thoran’ is served. Then comes a thoran made of beans and avial followed by ‘kootu curry’, kalan, erisserry and olan to the centre with injipuli.
Rice is served on the bottom of the leaf with ‘Parippu/ Dal’ and ghee is poured on the top. Then comes the Sambar followed by rasam. Desserts begin after that with ada prathamans or palada followed by ‘Kadala Parippu Payasam’ or kothambhu Payasam and completed with butter milk. This is most colorful arrangement of food on the lush green leaf making a feast for all the senses.
Happy Onam to All!!!