Attending our local Onam celebration was one of the few events every year where I really felt like a Malayalee. It’s where I could connect with my culture. I loved seeing everyone in their white and gold sarees and seeing the beautiful pookalam designs (flower carpets). The best part of the celebration is without a doubt, Onam Sadhya. It’s a delicious and endless feast that’s 100% vegetarian and served on a banana leaf.
In this round-up, I’m including a little more on what Onam is and the story behind it as well as a collection of my favorite Onam Sadhya recipes. Enjoy!
What is Onam?
If you’re not familiar with Onam, it is an annual, multi-day harvest festival and celebration. Hindus across Kerala celebrate it, but those of all religious backgrounds recognize and attend the festivities. The celebration date is based on the Malayalam calendar month of Chingam. This usually ends up being around August or September each year.
Now there are a couple of versions of the story behind Onam, but here is the version I know. The 10-day long festival is celebrated to remember the mythical King Mahabali. The king was loved by all his people in Kerala. Not all the gods were a fan of him though so, they called on Vishnu to help defeat Mahabali. Mahabali was a devotee of Vishnu so Vishnu didn’t feel right trying to defeat Mahabali. Instead, Vishnu decided to test Mahabali’s devotion. Mahabli has declared a yajna which meant he would offer anyone any wish they asked for.
Vishnu appeared to Mahabali in disguise as a dwarf named Vamana. Mahabali asked Vamana what he wanted and said he only needed “three small steps of land.” This seemed like an easy wish to grant until Vamana suddenly grew into a giant! With two steps, Vamana was able to cover all of Mahabali’s beloved land. Concerned for his people, Mahabali stopped Vamana just before his third step and asked if he would place his foot on his head for the final step. In return, he asked Vamana to allow him to visit once every year so he could be with his people.
What is Onam Sadhya?
So, every year, Onam is celebrated across 10 days and features a wonderful variety of music, dance, and food. It kicks off with parades and boat races. There are also pookalam design contests and pulikali (tiger dance – not real tigers, just people painted as them). Everyone’s favorite part of the festival though is the last day which is sadhya (the feast)!
Onam Sadhya is the epitome of the harvest festival. It’s a completely vegetarian feast that’s all served on a banana leaf. There are typically 9-10 courses served and anywhere from 30-40 sadhya dishes can be made. A variety of native vegetables like yams, pumpkin, lentils, and more are used to create the spread. It’s a beautiful mix of sweet, sour, salty, and more all on one plate – err, leaf.
Now on to the good stuff!
Here are my top 10 Kerala Onam Sadhya Recipes:
(click the title to see the recipe)