by Elizabeth Menon

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“HAPPY ONAM”: "Onaashamsakal” to all Malayaalees and our Friends!

‘Happiness, Love and Prosperity for this ‘Onam’,
and the Coming Years’!

It is that time of the year when Malayalees welcome King Mahabali with open arms, feasting on ‘Ona-sadya’, the best food in the world, dressed up in new clothes woven with gold threads, and the women of all ages looking more beautiful than ever wearing jasmine garlands in their hair – even the food served on the plantain leaves has a dress code! It is delightful to watch the beautiful flowers of different shapes, sizes and patterns everywhere, especially the exquisite floral embroidery, ‘Atthappookkalam’, which adorns the courtyard of every Malayali household!

Legend has it that when Lord Vishnu banished the Asura King Mahabali to the netherworld, he granted him a wish, allowing him to visit his subjects once a year! And Mahabali chose the day of 'Thiruvonam’ that follows ten days after ‘Atham’ in the month of Chingam, according to the Malayalam calendar -- but the celebrations and the celebratory lunch start on the day of 'Atham' for ten days, with a different 'Paayasam' on each day, Parippu paayasam, adaprathaman, paalada, Paal-paayasam, pazhappayasam, muthu-paayasam,etc! It is a great celebration for all Malayalees around the globe, irrespective of their caste or religion.

It is also quality time for friends and family, and all thoughts of dieting are happily abandoned, feasting on ‘Ona-sadya', rather a special elaborate spread on the green plantain leaves, served with diamond hard precision! But of course, for the less fortunate Malayalees with no access to the plantain leaves or if they are in short supply, various modifications can be done -- small squares of the plantain leaf placed on the plate should give the nostalgic feel and taste of the olden days back at home in Kerala -- like I have done! There are around twenty items designated for the Sadya, served from the left-hand side of the plantain leaf placed with its pointed end to the left -- the long procession of delicacies start with salt, followed by two or three types of pickles, Inchkkari, thoran, pachati, olan, aviyal, kichati and erisseri; then at the bottom left, different types of upperi, Sharkkara varatty, pazham, pappatam in two sizes and pazham-nurukku. Then comes the star of the feast, the rice, in the centre of the leaf! Parippu with ghee is laced over the rice and once this delightful combination with the crushed pappatam vanishes, more rice with sambar appears and later it is kaalan, to tickle your taste buds!

Sadya’s dress code demands that the desserts are served on the same plantain leaf! Different types of paayasams, usually three types, ataprathaman, paalppayasam, and parippu paayasam, are served and it is sheer heaven on the green velvet in front of you -- and this is ‘That special day’ when diabetes is forgotten, by most!! Then there is an option to have the yoghurt (Moru) with rice, which is favoured by a few. It is only the glistening velvet of the plantain leaf that is left at the end of this celestial Sadya, except perhaps for the drumstick skins, and the curry leaves – but of course, one should eat the curry leaves as it is full of anti oxidants and other nutrients, preventing cancer, etc.

Various games are a must after the ‘Ona-sadya'; football, volleyball, showing off on the swing, etc. follow, to burn the excess! Then sadly ‘Thiruvonam’ comes to an end, but there are more festivities to follow – Avittam, Chathayam and the boat race, to mention a few! Then of course, the long wait for the next Onam!

‘Onaashamsakal”! Have a Great Celebration!

© E Menon



I am writing about your latest article in Kerala Link. I agree with the need for rehab.. but I do applaud the decision to take a drastic step to change the status quo. Best regards. G.J
09/18/2014 - 12:47
George John
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