One of the biggest festival for the Keralite people, Onam witnesses joyous celebrations across the state of Kerala. Observed in Chingam, the first month of the Malayalam calendar (August- September of Gregorian Calendar) the Onam festival lasts for ten days and is celebrated by people from all religious backgrounds.
The main celebrations of Onam can be beheld on Thiruvonam, the tenth and final day of the festival. It is a time for get-together for all extended members of individual families and feasts are a given in such merry assemblage. The 'Onasadya' or the grand traditional feast forms the main part of Thiruvonam. After the completion of all morning rituals, the noon is the time for all the assembled members of the family to sit together to have the feast. True to the Keralite tradition, the meal is served in banana leaves. Before serving the food to family members, a plantain leaf is placed before a lighted oil lamp (Nila Vilakku) and all the dishes and rice prepared are served on it in honour of Lord Ganapathi. This ritual is in accordance with the Malayalese trend of starting everything in the name and presence of God.
A great deal of effort and preparations go behind the making of a good Onasadya. Irrespective of wealth or social position, everybody prepares Onasadya in a grand fashion. Keralites attach special importance to this grand feast as they believe it shows to the spirit of King Mahabali that his subjects are all living in as much happiness and prosperity as their ancestors did during his golden rule. In fact, such is passion of the Keralites with regard to Onasadya that it has led to the popular saying - 'Kaanam Vittum Onam Unnanam', meaning people go to the extent of selling all their possessions for one Onasadya.
After the offering to God has been made, all family members sit down on mats laid on the floor to have their grand meal. People eat with their hands no fork or spoon is allowed. On Thiruvonam, the dishes are served from the left end of banana leaf. The leaf is placed in such a way that the tip of the leaf is directed towards the left end in a horizontal manner. This arrangement enables the eater to have the feast easily. Even the foods are placed on the banana leaf in a special way. The Pappad (or Poppadum) is served on the extreme left; on top of it is placed the banana (of 'Rasakathali', 'Poovan', or 'Palayankodan' variety). From the right side, salt, banana wafers and sarkarapuratti fries are served. Next comes the other items like ginger lime, mango pickles, 'vellarika', 'pavakka', beetroot and 'ullikitchadi'. 'Khichadi' is served along with cabbage thoran, 'avial' and 'kootu curry'. Rice is served when the guests seat themselves and just two big spoons is considered enough. On this is poured 'parippu' and ghee. Then comes Sambhar. Desserts come last and the guests are to begin with adaprathaman followed by 'Kadala Payasam'. Such an elaborate and colourful arrangement of the varied food items on the lush green banana leaf looks highly attractive and tempting.
Onasadya is a strictly vegetarian nine course meal. Traditionally, an Onasadya feast includes rice, the main ingredient, and delicacies such as Parippu Curry, Sambar, Avial, ery, Kalan, Olan and Thoran. In total, there are in Onasadya more than 11 essential dishes the number of which may vary. In earlier days, Onasadya used to be even more grand with 64 mandatory dishes.
Onam Rituals | History | Songs of Onam