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    Saturday, August 29, 2020

    Story of Sadya - Kerala's Onam Festive Feast

    The Onam feast called sadya is an elaborate meal served on a banana leaf ©vm2002/Shutterstock.com
    Onam is an annual holiday and festival celebrated in Kerala, India. It is also a harvest festival, and falls on the 22nd nakshatra Thiruvonam in the Malayalam calendar month of Chingam, which in Gregorian calendar overlaps with August–September.
    Kerala, a state on India's tropical Malabar Coast, has nearly 600km of Arabian Sea shoreline. It's known for its palm-lined beaches and backwaters, a network of canals. Inland are the Western Ghats, mountains whose slopes support tea, coffee and spice plantations as well as wildlife.

    Kerala offers an elaborate festive repast during the Onam festival. Malayali people in Kerala and elsewhere around the world mark the spring festival of Onam – the beginning of all things good and new.
    Onam is celebrated with much pomp and fanfare, complete with intricate atthapookalam or flower carpets.

    A traditionally dressed woman draws rangoli with flowers for the festival of Onam ©Santhosh Varghese/Shutterstock.com
    The festival legend goes that there once lived the wise and generous King Mahabali, who was beloved by the people of the land (seriously, this guy would have won any poll in its time hands down).  Lord Vishnu once appeared on earth to put the king's generosity to the test. Vishnu arrived in the avatar of Vamana, a poor Brahmin dwarf. His request to Mahabali was oddly simple – he asked for three steps of land for himself which the king swiftly granted. As soon as this happened, Vamana grew to cosmic proportions; his first step covered the earth, the heavens his second, leaving nothing behind for him to claim his third. A man of his word, King Mahabali offered Vamana his own head to place his final step. The gods were thus pleased with the king and granted him a boon in return. Mahabali asked to be allowed to visit his land (modern-day Kerala) and its people once a year.

    Elephants decorated with gold plated caparisons for parade on Onam festival ©Santhosh Varghese/Shutterstock.com
    Onam is that day when people celebrate this legend and mark it with a huge feast. Men and women dress up in the traditional kasavu mundu and saris and sit down for the most important meal of the day (if not year) – the Onam Sadhya. 

    The sadhya which literally translates to banquet in Malayalam, is exactly that: an elaborate feast served on a plantain leaf. There are no fixed number of dishes in a traditional sadhya; the more opulent, the better. Some spots in Kerala serve sadhyas with more than 50 items!

    The sadhya broadly covers all the flavour profiles – sweet, salty, sour and spicy through various textures and temperatures and uses a lot of regional vegetables as ingredients; think coconut, jaggery, yams and a wide variety of lentils. In Kerala, Onam cuts across all religions in the state and is celebrated by all segments of society with equal fervour. I believe that this spirit of inclusiveness is why the traditional sadhya is necessarily vegetarian. It isn’t uncommon though to see the regional variants of the sadhya such as seafood sadhya (in coastal towns) and meat/poultry dishes (in central and north Kerala).

    Sadya is a well-designed meal course incorporating flavours of all kinds ©Santhosh Varghese/Shutterstock.com
    Like all well-designed meals, the order in which the dishes of the sadhya are served are of significance. For example, all the cool and lukewarm dishes are served as accompaniments and condiments to the main course of rice and pour-overs such as parippu (lentil curry), sambar, pulissery (tempered buttermilk), pacha moru (buttermilk) and rasam. The order in which they are served also allows for balance from a digestive point of view; you need all the help you can get to knock back a meal of this scale and magnitude.

    India`s most idyllic state, Kerala, better known as Gods Own Country, is today one of the most sought after tourist destinations in India. Secluded beaches, palm-fringed backwaters, mist-clad hill stations,lush tropical forests, cascading waterfalls, exotic wildlife, majestic monuments, fine art forms and enchanting festivals give it a distinctive charm. Apart from being a tourist destination, Kerala is home toIndias most advanced society. 100% literate, the State has Indias highest density of Science and Technology personnel,highest Physical Quality of Life Index (PQLI ),highest life expectancy and the lowest infant mortality rate. Kerala to be sure, isIndias cleanest and the most peaceful State. Tourism is Kerala`s boon industry.
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