Rituals and customs aplenty
A festival that transcends barriers and brings together various religious communities, Onam is a celebration quite like none other. A symbol of abundance and prosperity, Onam is synonymous with camaraderie, colours and customs galore. Celebrated with great fervour in Kerala and Keralites all over the world, the festive vibe associated with Onam is more like a feeling and an emotion. It holds a special place in the hearts of Malayalis irrespective of the faith they follow as it is an all-inclusive cultural festival rather than just a religious one. Onam marks the home coming of Kerala’s much loved Asura king Mahabali and is celebrated in a grand way. It also a harvest festival and marks the celebration of the new harvest.
Celebrated in the month of Chingam which usually falls during the month of August or September, Onam is celebrated over a period of ten days starting from Atham which is the first day of the festival. On this day people decorate their homes with the Pookalam which is a carpet of flowers akin to a rangoli or kolam. Yellow flowers are considered particularly auspicious for the decoration. The other days of Onam are Chithira, Chodhi, Vishakam, Anizham, Thriketa, Moolam, Pooradam, Uthradam and Thiruvonam.
Arguably the most favourite part of Onam is the Sadhya which is an elaborate and delectable vegetarian meal served in a traditional manner and savoured on a banana leaf. The fare consists of as many as 26 dishes and is literally the soul of the festival. The dishes include papadam, pickles, curries, rice, rasam, sambhar and payasam. The latter which is a dessert, is a creamy concoction of rice, nuts, coconut and jaggery. Sometimes an elaborate sadya can contain as many as 64 dishes! The dishes are served in a particular order and each dish occupies a particular place on the banana leaf.
A detailed version of this article was originally published in Seema Magazine.