Onam is a 10-day long harvest festival of Kerala that is celebrated to honour the great King Mahabali. Onam falls in the Malayali month of Chingam (between August and September) and also marks the beginning of the Malayalam New Year or Kolla Varsham.
Know more about Onam celebrations, traditions, and its significance, along with 3 amazing Onam feast recipes you can try at home!
History & Significance Of Onam
There is a very interesting tale associated with Onam history. There was a time when all the three worlds were believed to be ruled by King Mahabali, the demon king who had acquired the throne after defeating the Gods. During his reign, the local people lived in prosperity and grandeur. His popularity made the Gods insecure, who then asked Lord Vishnu to help end Mahabali’s reign.
Lord Vishnu tricked the King by appearing in the disguise of a Vaman and asking the generous king to give him ‘3 pieces of land.’ Once the wish was granted, the Vamana then grew in size and covered the nether world and the sky in just two strides. When the Vamana was about to take his third stride, the generous and righteous king offered his head to the Lord.
King Mahabali was then sent to a lower world. However, Lord Vishnu was impressed by his act and granted him a wish – he could come and visit his land once a year. The festival marks the homecoming of the former King Mahabali.
This vibrant harvest festival is celebrated to acknowledge the sacrifices of the great king and the prosperous times the kingdom witnessed during his rule. People devotedly arrange for the welcome of their beloved king or “Onathappan” on this day. Every day of this 10-day-long festival symbolises the progress of the great King’s visit back home. Thiruvoinam or the second day of the festival is perhaps the most significant of all days.
3 Customs & Traditions Of The Festival
- The festival is celebrated with great fervour in the state of Kerala. During the 10 days of Onam, devotees wear traditional clothes, offer prayers, create flower rangolis or Pookalam and prepare sadhya or the traditional festive feast.
- The celebrations may also include activities like Thiruvathira Kali (folk dance) performances, Vallam Kali (boat races), Ona-thallu (martial dance) performances, Pulikali (tiger dance) performance, boat races, tug of war and more.
- The grandiose Onam celebrations are held in a place called ‘Thrikkakara, which is about 10 kilometres away from Kochi. According to ancient tales, Thrikkakara was the capital of King Mahabali’s kingdom. Thrikkakara temple is the centre of Onam festival celebrations.
9 Ways In Which Onam Is Celebrated At Home
- Devotees celebrate this special festival in their homes. This is a time for families and loved ones to come together, exchange wishes and gifts, and enjoy the delectable Sadya feast.
- People clean and decorate their houses and make lovely Pookalam. The size of the Pookalam grows each day as more flowers are added to it. Each day of the festival has its significance and is celebrated uniquely.
- On the first day of the festival (Atham), people begin the celebrations with temple visits and prayers. The house cleaning begins on the second day.
- The shopping starts on the third day.
- Onam Sadhya is prepared on the fourth day of the festival.
- By the sixth day, people start devoting more and more time to the celebrations.
- On day eight, people place statues of King Mahabali and Vamana at the centre of the Pookalam.
- Day 9 sees the celebrations in full swing. People prepare traditional fruit and vegetable-based meals for the Onam festival.
- On day 10, people visit the temple, distribute firsts and visit each other’s houses. The grand Thiruona Sadya is prepared on this day.
3 Onam Sadhya Recipes That You Must Try
Sadhya or the traditional feast associated with this pious festival is a 9-course meal that includes as many as 26 different dishes. A few of the dishes that are commonly prepared during this elaborate meal are avail, olan, rasam, kootu curry, mor curry, thoran and parippu payasam. The essence of Onam traditions lies in the preparation of this all-vegetarian feast, which is typically served on banana leaves.
This white pumpkin and lobia curry go excellently with steamed white rice. Here is how to make olan.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
- Chopped ash gourd – 2 cups
- Green chillies (slit) – 3-4
- Curry leaves – 20-30
- Thick coconut milk – 1 cup
- 1 cup water (for cooking the ash gourd)
- Coconut oil 2-3 teaspoons
- Rinse and soak around ⅓ cup of red lobia overnight. The following morning, drain the water and rinse again. Then drain the excess water. Add the soaked lobia to a pressure cooker along with 1⁄4 teaspoon of salt and 11/2 cups of water.
- Pressure cook the lobia on a medium flame for 3-4 whistles. Wait for the pressure to settle before opening the lid and checking if the lobia is well cooked. Once done, keep it aside.
- Rinse, peel and chop the ash gourd into medium-sized cubes. You will not be needing the seeds and the pith.
- Put the ash guard cubes in a pan along with 7-8 curry leaves, green chillies and salt.
- Add 1 cup of water or thin coconut milk to the pan.
- Cover the pan and let the ingredients cook on low-medium flame.
- Keep checking if you need to add more water. Continue till the ash gourd is cooked till tender.
- Make sure there isn’t a lot of water remaining in the pan once the ash gourd is done. Some water is okay.
- Add the cooked lobia to the pan (don’t add the stock) along with thick coconut milk and mix.
- Let the curry heat for about 5 minutes on low flame. Do not bring to a boil.
- After 5 minutes, turn off the stove. Add 14-15 curry leaves to the mix along with about 2 teaspoons of coconut oil. Mix the ingredients well and cover.
- leave the pan for about 6 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.
- Your olan is ready to be served.
2. Semiya Payasam
Semiya payasam is a simple recipe that is quick to prepare and delicious. Here is how you can make this dessert.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
- vermicelli (semiya) – 1 cup
- Ghee – 2 tablespoons
- Whole milk – 3.5 cups
- Sugar – about 4 tablespoons
- Raisins – 2 tablespoons
- Cashews – 12 to 15
- Cardamom powder – ½ teaspoon
- Put a deep pan over the stove and pour in the ghee.
- Wait for the ghee to melt before adding cashews. Fry the cashews on low heat until golden.
- Take out the cashews from the ghee.
- Now add raisins to the ghee and fry on low heat till they start to swell up. Don’t forget to stir often while frying the dry fruits.
- Remove the raisins from heat and set them aside.
- In the same pan, now add the vermicelli (broken) and mix.
- Roast the semiya on low heat. Don’t forget to stir often. Continue till the semiya are golden in colour.
- Once the vermicelli changes its colour to golden, pour the milk into the pan and mix well. Add 4 cups of milk if you want a thinner consistency.
- Keep the flame on medium-low or low and let the ingredients cool until the vermicelli is soft. Make sure to stir often.
- After that, add the sugar. You may change the quantity according to your taste.
- Now sprinkle the cardamom powder over the ingredients.
- Mix the ingredients and let the mixture simmer on medium-low to low flame for 3-4 minutes. The sugar should dissolve by then.
- Take the pan off the heat and add the dry fruits. You can save some of the dry fruits for garnish.
- Enjoy this dish chilled, hot or warm.
This traditional Kerala recipe is a must-have in your Onam sadhya items. Here is how to prepare a curry version of this amazing delicacy.
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
For The Coconut Paste
- Grated coconut – 1 cup
- Cumin – 1 teaspoon
- Green chillies – 2 to 3
- Water – about ½ cup
For The Veggies
- Chopped ash gourd – 1 cup
- Chopped suran (elephant foot) – 1 cup
- Chopped Pumpkin – 1 cup
- Chopped French beans – ½ cup
- Chopped raw unripe banana – 1 cup.
- Chopped drumsticks – 1-2 drumsticks
- Chopped Mangalore cucumber – 1 cup
- Curd (beaten) – 1 cup
- Curry leaves – about 15
- Coconut oil – 1-2 tablespoons
- Rinse, peel and chop the vegetables into medium-length thick sticks.
- Make sure to keep the banana pieces in water to keep them from darkening.
- Whisk the curd well.
Preparing coconut paste
- Add all the ingredients to a grinder.
- Grind the ingredients to form a coarse paste.
- In a pot, first, add the veggies that take time to cook (green beans and drumsticks).
- Add 1 cup of water, sprinkle some turmeric powder (½ teaspoon) and salt and stir well.
- Cover the pot and let the veggies cook on medium-low to medium heat. Cook till the vegetables are half cooked.
- At this point, add the rest of the veggies (banana, cucumber, ash gourd, pumpkin).
- Mix the veggies, cover the pot and continue cooking the ingredients.
- Make sure to keep checking to see if you need to add more water.
- Continue cooking till the veggies are almost done.
Bringing The Ingredient Together
- Add the coconut paste to the vegetables and mix.
- Let the ingredients simmer for about 5 minutes or till the veggies are well done. Make sure not to overcook the veggies. They should be able to hold shape. Add water if you feel the mixture is dry.
- Once the veggies are cooked, bring the flame to a low.
- Add the curd and mix. Let the ingredients simmer for a minute or two and then switch off the flame.
- Add the curry leaves and the coconut oil and mix.
- Cover the pot and leave it for about 5 minutes.
- Your dish is ready to be served.
This celebration of the Onam festival truly captures the vibrant and lively spirit of our nation. It is a mesmerising display of colours, fragrances, flavours, art and life!
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