Anyone ever heard of our God’s own Country have heard about Onam atleast once. Onam is a harvest festival signaling the end of the monsoons and the commencement of a time of plenty. Onam falls in the month of Chingam, the first month of the Malayalam calendar. Traditionally, Onam celebrations start on Atham day, 10 days before Thiruvonam. All Malayalees irrespective of all caste and religion, celebrate the festival with enthusiasm and fervour. It is also celebrated as the homecoming of the great Mahabali. All the Malayalees get dressed to the nines, get together and, decorate their house with floral displays (pookkalams) and prepare the feast (Onam Sadya) of a lifetime.
Gone are the days when elaborate onasadhya used to be made at home, From ready made Onam kits to handy take away Onam specials and onam luncheon offers in hotels, there is a lot of options for Malayalees these days. Sadya is traditionally a vegetarian meal served on a banana leaf on special occasions, during weddings and other celebrations. All the dishes are served on the leaf and eaten with hands sans cutlery, the palm and fingers being cupped to form a ladle. Traditionally eaten off a banana leaf sitting on the floor, the meal is a wonderful combination of sweet and tangy flavours, however preparations differ across the state. When it comes to adding tanginess to the dishes, north Kerala prefers to use curd, and south relies on raw mango and tamarind.
The most important part of thiruvonam is the Thiruona Sadya. The plating of Onam Sadhya starts with the banana leaf which is always positioned with its tapering end facing towards the left. The sadya has steamed Kerala matta rice (Rosematta rice or Red parboiled rice) as the main ingredient served with many side dishes.The side items served in the sadya may vary from region to region. A sadya can have about 24-28 dishes served as a single course and is usually served for lunch as it is quite heavy on the stomach. Preparations begin at dawn and the dishes are made before 10 in the morning on the day of the celebration.The 26-dish traditional lunch would include chips, pappads, various vegetable dishes, a good number of pickles both sweet and sour, the traditional aviyal, sambar, dal curry served along with a small quantity of ghee, rasam, two different preparations of butter milk, a chutney powder made of grated coconut, and many mouth-watering payasams (sweet dishes), some of which were eaten mixed with a ripe plantain. 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, ‘thoran’,usually made of cabbage,is served. Finally aviyal and kootu 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. 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 opulent meal is followed by vettila murukkan, chewing a betel leaf with lime and arecanut.
Another interesting thing, 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,
As we already seen,the food is eaten with hands without the use of any cutlery. Eating food with your hands feeds not only the body but also the mind and the spirit. That is the Vedic wisdom behind Kerala’s famous Banana Leaf Experience whose pleasure can only be appreciated fully, it is said, if one eats with hands and not fork and spoon. Traditionally, Indians not just in Kerala have always eaten with their hands.
Our hands and feet are said to be the conduits of the five elements. The Ayurvedic texts teach that each finger is an extension of one of the five elements. The thumb is agni (fire), you might have seen children sucking their thumb, this is nature’s way of aiding the digestion at an age when they are unable to chew; the forefinger is vayu (air), the middle finger is akash (ether-the tiny intercellular spaces in the human body), the ring finger is prithvi (earth) and the little finger is jal (water),” the paper explains.
Onasadhya is considered to be the most elaborate and grand meal prepared by any civilisation or cultures in the world. Make merry and stay happy, that’s the motto and the very reason of Onam and the scrumptious Sadhya.