Onam might just be the topic that is occupying a malayalees insta feed , Facebook and various other social media handles for the better part of a fortnight starting yesterday!
During my undergraduate days, Onam celebrations first started at that reverred institution two weeks before break began. Competitions were fierce, especially the tug-of-war. Scraped hands, bloodied feet and sore throats were a given. There were also one act plays with decked up (in gold) women, flower carpets ‘pokkalams’ , and horribly predicatable Malayalam vibes – a medley of onam ‘looks’. There were singing competitions, best dressed (nope, I never came even the tiniest bit close when there were girls at college who made dressing up an art form), ‘vanchipatu’ (traditional boat songs) and fusion songs playing over the speakers during these days. The mood was festive with a capital F.
Onam is a harvest festival celebrated in the malayalam month of Chingam. According to legend, the festival is celebrated to commemorate Mahabali( the self-sacrificing king) whose spirit is said to visit Kerala at this time.
Vallam kalli (boat races), pulikali (tiger dance), pookalams, folk songs and dance, make up part of the festivities. But, and that’s a huge BUT, dominating the competitions and wiping out all the willy-nilly revelry is the (drum roll), sadhya!
A veritable feast is served on plantain leaves and could consist of over two dozen dishes. Let me repeat that. Over two dozen! (Ha! And here you thought we were all about parota and beef (Godha movie scene). Chips, Sharkaraveratti (Fried pieces of banana coated with jaggery), pappadam, olan , kalan, injipuli, thoran, mezhukkupurati, aviyal, sambar, paripu, erisheri, pachadi, kichadi, puliseri, naranga curry, moru, pickles (uff thats an extensive line-up!). It definitely does not stop there. No way! then we go on to the payasam, a sweet dish of which atleast two or three kinds is served with boli, pappadam and plantains, eaten on the same plantain leaf. Although the list seems endless, there is a method to this madness of curries. Check out Onam recipes from Squaremeals.
An unmarred plaintain leaf is laid with its tip pointing to the left of the person seated. The chips are then laid on the left edge of the leaf and the curries are served (in moderation of course). Tingling sour curries like kalan, sweet and salty ginger curry, warm coconut aviyal are all served on the leaf. The paripu and ghee poured on the rice is my favourite part (yes, I make the server pour not drizzle on my leaf).
The payasam though is the most anticipated, delectable and perfect conclusion to the parade. Personally, I keep a small amount of pickle in a corner of the leaf. Ask me why. Cause you can eat more payasam since the spicy pickle re-balances your taste buds! I’m a genius!
Onam brings the family together; the aunts and uncles, cousins and neighbours. The sadhya tastes infinitely better in that atmosphere of love. Although a gathering of such proportions might be restricted this year, it can still be celebrated differently.
Even if it seems the worst of times, we can make it the best of times. Saluting the frontline warriors of the Covid19 pandemic and wishing everyone a happy Onam. saying thank you.