Onam, Sadya and Celeberations!

I spent most of my life in North India before moving to Western India 20 years ago. It was there that I met some Keralite friends who introduced me to Sadya, a traditional Kerala meal. At that time, South Indian cuisine was largely limited to dishes like sambhar, dosa, idli, and rasam, as people didn't travel as much and had limited exposure to other regions of our diverse country. During my first visit to Kerala in 1989-90, I was surprised to learn about the use of coconut oil in cooking. We could not eat anything cooked in Coconut oil. :( Back then, finding north-Indian eateries was a challenge, so we often ended up eating bread and butter.

|  Instagram | Facebook | YouTube |Twitter | Podcast |

Living in the western part of India has been an amazing experience for me. I reside in a cosmopolitan area, which is basically a mini India. It's here that I've been fortunate enough to make friends with people from various parts of the country. Bindu, who happens to be a Christian, invited me over for my first sadya. I was blown away by her enthusiasm for Onam, a community festival that I had always thought was only celebrated by Hindus. It just goes to show how diverse and inclusive India truly is.

Onam is a 10-day harvest festival celebrated in the Indian state of Kerala. It is considered the most important festival for the Malayali people and holds significant cultural and religious significance. The festival is celebrated to honour King Mahabali, a legendary ruler known for his just and prosperous rule.

Onam starts off every year with a parade called Athachamayam.

The festival is marked by a variety of activities and rituals:

Vallam Kali (Boat Race): One of the most iconic events of Onam is the boat race, known as Vallam Kali. Spectacular snake boat races are held on rivers, particularly on the Pampa River, where teams of oarsmen row long traditional boats in a competitive and synchronized manner. 

You can listen to the latest podcast episode here.

Pookkalam (Floral Rangoli): Intricate and colourful designs made of flowers are created on the ground, also known as Pookkalam. These designs often become larger and more elaborate as the festival progresses.

Pokkalam @ a temple in Ahmedabad Photo courtesy Radhi Menon

Music and Dance Performances: Traditional music and dance performances are an integral part of Onam celebrations. Various traditional dance forms like Thiruvathira Kali and Pulikali are performed during this time.

Onam Sadya: The Onam feast, known as Onam Sadya, is a grand vegetarian meal served on a banana leaf. It includes a variety of dishes, each with its own distinct flavours and textures. Onam Sadya is a symbol of community and togetherness, where people come together to enjoy an elaborate feast.

Onam Boat Race by Ms Sarah Welch- Wikipedia

Thrikkakara Temple Celebrations: The Thrikkakara Temple in Kerala is the epicentre of Onam celebrations. The festival begins with the raising of a ceremonial flag at this temple. Traditional rituals and ceremonies take place at this temple throughout the festival.

Cultural Performances: Kathakali, a traditional dance-drama form, is commonly performed during Onam. It involves elaborate costumes, makeup, and intricate facial expressions to tell mythological stories.

A Kathakali dancer, ready to perform.

Decorations and Illuminations: Homes are adorned with intricate decorations, and lamps are lit to signify the victory of light over darkness.

Giving and Charity: Onam is a time for giving and helping those in need. Many people participate in acts of charity, donating food, clothes, and other essentials to the less fortunate.

Folklore and Legends: Onam is rooted in the legend of King Mahabali and his annual visit to his kingdom. The story of Vamana, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, granting Mahabali's request to visit his people once a year is at the heart of the festival.

You can watch this podcast here

Unity and Celebration: Onam is a time when people of all communities and backgrounds come together to celebrate the festival. It showcases the cultural diversity and unity of the Kerala society.

Overall, Onam is a time of joy, cultural expression, and remembrance of Kerala's rich heritage. The festival emphasizes values of equality, kindness, and sharing, making it a cherished occasion for the people of Kerala.

Onam Sadya: The Culinary Extravaganza of Kerala

My Friend Bindu's Sadya! Homemadebliss!
Onam, the vibrant and culturally rich harvest festival of Kerala, is incomplete without the grand feast known as Onam Sadya. This multi-course vegetarian meal served on a banana leaf, is not just a culinary experience but a celebration of tradition, community, and unity. Onam Sadya is a feast that embodies the spirit of Kerala's rich cultural heritage and the essence of the festival itself.

The Significance of Onam Sadya

Onam Sadya is traditionally served on the tenth day of the Onam festival, known as Thiruvonam. This feast is deeply rooted in the mythology and history of Kerala and holds immense cultural importance. It is not just a meal but a symbol of Kerala's hospitality, unity, and love for good food.

The Preparation:

The preparation for Onam Sadya begins well in advance, with families and communities coming together to create a grand spread of dishes. The feast typically includes a variety of dishes, ranging from crispy snacks to delectable desserts, all served on a single banana leaf. The diversity of dishes reflects the rich culinary traditions of Kerala.

The Feast:

Onam Sadya is a gastronomic journey that tantalizes the taste buds with an array of flavours, textures, and aromas. A traditional Onam Sadya can consist of up to 26 dishes, each carefully curated to create a balanced and wholesome meal.

The feast starts with the serving of plain white rice, which is typically accompanied by traditional side dishes like sambar (a spicy lentil and vegetable stew) and rasam (a tangy tamarind-based soup) Aha... I just love this rasam⛾. These dishes set the foundation for the rest of the meal.

The Variety of Dishes:

Onam Sadya is a celebration of diversity, as it features an array of vegetarian dishes, each with its own unique flavours and preparations. Some of the popular dishes served during Onam Sadya include:

Avial: A mixed vegetable curry cooked in a coconut and yoghurt base, Avial is a harmonious blend of flavours and textures.

Olan: A gentle and comforting curry made with ash gourd, pumpkin, and cowpeas cooked in coconut milk.

Thorans: These are dry vegetable dishes made with grated coconut and a variety of vegetables like beans, carrots, and cabbage.

Pachadi: A sweet and sour dish made with yoghurt, coconut, and fruits or vegetables like pineapple or cucumber.

Erissery: A dish made with pumpkin or yam cooked with beans and seasoned with roasted coconut and spices.

Kaalan: A flavorful curry made with yoghurt, coconut, and raw plantains.

Payasam: The dessert course of Onam Sadya includes various types of payasam, which are sweet dishes made with ingredients like rice, lentils, jaggery, and coconut milk.

|  Instagram | Facebook | YouTube |Twitter | Podcast |

The Cultural Significance

Onam Sadya goes beyond just a feast; it is a reflection of Kerala's cultural diversity and unity. Families and communities come together to prepare and share this elaborate meal, fostering a sense of togetherness and celebration. It is a time to put aside differences and enjoy the abundance of the harvest season.

The Rituals:

There are certain rituals associated with Onam Sadya that add to its charm. The meal is typically served on a banana leaf, with each dish placed in a specific order. The banana leaf itself has its own significance, as it is believed to have natural antioxidant properties that enhance the taste and nutritional value of the food.

The Aftermath:

The conclusion of Onam Sadya marks the end of the elaborate feast, but the memories and camaraderie linger on. Families and friends come together to share stories, laughter, and joy. The feast brings people closer and strengthens bonds, showcasing the true essence of Kerala's hospitality and culture.

Onam Sadya

Onam Sadya is not just a meal; it is a celebration of tradition, unity, and culinary excellence. It captures the spirit of Onam and the rich cultural heritage of Kerala. The feast is a testament to the diversity of flavours and ingredients that define Kerala's cuisine. As families and communities gather around to partake in this grand culinary extravaganza, Onam Sadya truly becomes a memorable and cherished experience that embodies the essence of Kerala's culture and festivities.

Have you had your sadya today? What was in your sadya platter? Do share with us.

Wishing you a happy Onam! Enjoy the festivities!

Happy petpuja!

Neerja Bhatnagar

These are my social handles, let us connect on them.

|  Instagram | Facebook | YouTube |Twitter | Podcast |

This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon 2023


  1. Happy Onam.
    Believe me, most people in Kerala don't eat so much food.

  2. :) !Happy Onam to you too. I guess, with time, items might be reducing but the fervour and festivity remains. We now niether have people who can cook so much and nor people who can eat so much.


Post a Comment