Onam, Kerala’s harvest festival to commemorate the revered King Maveli, is a much-looked-forward-to festival not just for Malayalees but even for Palakkad Brahmins. Chingam is the first Malayalam month and Onam falls in this month.
The myth behind Onam
It is believed that Mahabali, also known as Maveli, the benevolent Asura king who ruled over Kerala, became immensely popular among his subjects. This made the Devas insecure and they approached Lord Vishnu to control Mahabali.
Vishnu, in his avatar as Brahmin Vamana, called on Mahabali. As is the custom to fulfil anything that a Brahmin wishes, the king happily agreed to grant the Brahmin’s wish of three paces of land. Being the Lord of the universe, Vishnu as Vamana grew in stature covering the sky with his first step and the netherworld with his second step. For the third and final step, the king offered his head. Captivated by his devotion, Vamana granted a boon that he would be able to visit his people once a year. It is celebrated over ten days when King Mahabali gets ready to visit God’s Own Country from Pathala (netherworld) and culminates on Thiruvonam.
A grand welcome to the king
Homes come alive with polished villakkus (brass lamps) and floors are adorned with pookkalam (floral carpet) – artwork made of fresh flower petals in motifs of flowers, mango, peacock or other birds. Lord Krishna is worshipped, ladies wear Kerala’s signature mundu-type Kasavu saris and an elaborate vegetarian feast is prepared. Boat races are organized as part of this festival. Kaikottikali, Thumbi Thullal, and Pulikali are some of the dance forms performed by girls and women.
A traditional vegetarian feast, consisting of nearly 40 items, is prepared by the women of the house and the food is served on banana leaf. Kerala specialities like kalan, olan, kootu, curry, avial, mango puliseri, errusery, dal, sambar, mezhukuvarti, cabbage/beans thoran and brown rice (all cooked to perfection) form the menu. Umpteem chamandis (similar to chutney), pachadis (different forms of raita), puli inji, and fries like dal vadai, banana and jackfruit chips are the must-have accompaniments on Onam. Chakravartha upperi is jaggery-coated banana chips. After savouring the main course, irresistible madhuram or desserts comprise of halwas, nendrapazham norukku (Kerala banana) in jaggery syrup, panchamrutam, neiyappam and eight varieties of payasams/pradhamans of parruppu, paladha, pal, semiyan, godumai, pazha, akkarvadshal.
Considering the hectic pace of city life where urbanites feel hassled to cook so many dishes and in keeping with folklores, restaurants in cities come up with Onam food festival where you get to enjoy all the customary specialities from valliya papadam, chamandi (chutney), sambharam (buttermilk) to various pickles and payasam served on banana leaves.
Image courtesy: Pixabay