While preparations are in full swing to welcome King Mahabali, the malayalee community in the capital is busy making preparations to celebrate Onam on August 28. According to a popular legend, the festival is celebrated to welcome King Mahabali, whose spirit is said to visit Kerala at the time of Onam.
Though meeting and greeting are important part of the ten-day festival, the most significant part of Kerala’s biggest harvest festival is the grand feast called Onasadya, prepared on ‘Thiruonam’ – the last day of Onam.
It is a strictly vegetarian nine-course meal, consisting 11 to 13 essential dishes. Onasadya is served on tender banana leaves and people sit on a mat to have the meal. Fruits and digestives are also part of the meal.
“The three days, one day before, and after Onam are very special,” says Noida-based Sharath Shankar. “The morning meal comprises banana chips and cooker-boiled bananas so that it can easily be eaten with the chips.”
Reshmi R Nair, a corporate professional tells Metrolife, “Special lunches are prepared. Rice, sambhar, parippu (dal), pachadi, made of curd and fresh vegetables like beetroot are served as an accompaniment with rice.”
“Cabbage toran or beans toran (sliced vegetables without water retention), avial (mixed vegetable), injithair (finely chopped ginger with curd), curry or sauteed vegetables, pappadam (papad), banana chips and two types of payasam are some of the dishes that I recall,” she adds.
For better digestion, a special drink is prepared in which water is boiled with cumin and dried ginger (chukku).
“Onasaya used to be even more elaborate. There were about 64 mandatory dishes - eight varieties each of eight dishes. At that time three banana leaves were served one under the other to accommodate all dishes,” says 62-year-old S Venkataramani.
While many malayalees point out that, “they don’t celebrate Onam in north India with much fervour”, Nair says, “In Kerala, we wear new clothes, put up swings for children, make rangolis and go and watch Kathakali performances.”
She adds, “But Onam for NRKs (Non Residential Keralites) means getting together with your relatives and eating all south Indian delicacies on banana leaf, once a year.”