Onam Sadhya festival

‘Ullathu kondu onam pole’ (Onam Sadhya festival with whatever available)

Not just the Onam Sadhya, we all love festivity of all kinds. India is a land of festivals. Celebrating fest with family and friends is the lifestyle of the whole of India. Whether it is towns or villages people celebrate festivals with lots of food, decorations and traditional costumes. Christmas and Diwali are some of the major festivals.

Almost every day of the year has a festival in India. We have at least two days of holidays every year because of the festivals. Apart from the religious festivals, we also have national festivities, when we celebrate the Independence day and the republic day.

Onam Sadhya Proverbs

There are two proverbs about how Onam is to be celebrated. Ullathu kondu Onam pole which means celebrating Onam with whatever little is available; and Kanam vittum Onam unnanam which means one must celebrate Onam even by selling one’s property.

Onam is a harvest festival celebrated in Kerala. Onam is a time of bountiful.  There is no dearth of food commodities for serving lavish sadhyas (feast) for ten days of Onam. Therefore the term Onam represents abundance. If plenty of dishes are cooked in any house throughout the year then people say ‘for them every day is like Onam’.

Onam Sadhya food

Onam is more about food than anything else. What you consume on each day of Onam is almost a ritual. Traditionally after the elaborate cooking on ThiruOnam (second day of Onam), there won’t be any cooking on the next day that is Munam Onam. In some places whatever is left will be consumed as Pazhamkanji (fermented rice gruel) on the fourth day of Onam that is Chadayam.

This year’s Onam for me was the actualization of the first proverb –  an Onam celebration with whatever was available in the Kitchen

Weekday Onam in a City

As Onam was in the middle of the week and Kids were in the Middle of their mid-term exam, we couldn’t shop for the Onam sadhya. Besides, our Malayalee uncle who supplies Kerala items at our home every week gave a miss this Onam season.

We had decided to have an elaborate Onam sadhya later in the week, but, on Thiruonam day, when people started posting images of their sumptuous sadhyas on WhatsApp and facebook we changed our mind. We decided to prepare a sadhya with whatever ingredients were available in the kitchen (ullathu kondu Onam pole).

Cooking with Whatever available

There was green gram, split chickpea, jaggery and coconut available. So I prepared green gram stir fry (Payar thoran), fried green gram curry (Payar curry), Chickpea payasam (kadala parippu payasam) and fried coconut chutney.  The accompaniments included tender mango pickle, banana and pappad. And there was ghee to flavour the brown Kerala rice.

The frugality in the number of dishes happens on weekdays while confining to the four walls of an apartment is a metropolitan city. Had I been in Kerala, even in the gravest of situation, I could prepare some more vegetable dishes by picking up leaves, roots, stems, fruits and flowers from the edible plants around my house.

The multi recipe plantain tree

If there is plantain tree then I can prepare banana fry or stir fry, Banana flower stir fry and banana stem stir fry.  Two or three taro stems will be enough for a stir fry. One or more of a variety of edible leaves like Veli cheera (sweet leaves), kuppa cheera (amaranth leaves) and chembila (colocasia leaves ) tossed into a stir fry. According to traditional medical practitioners, most of the leaves around our houses are edible and nutritious, provided they are washed thoroughly.  

Coming back to our Onam in Delhi this year-  it was a high-protein Onam Sadhya.  Delicious to the core and the banana leaves gave a complete feel to the Onam fiesta. There were seven dishes, one-third of the number of dishes normally served for an Onam Sadhya.

A high-protein Onam

The next day Munam Onam (third day of Onam ) we received a pass for Onam Sadhya at Kerala House. It One of the best sadhyas in my life. I felt like I was attending a typical Hindu wedding in Kerala during my childhood days. Another Onam proverb came true, Onam und ariyanam which means Onam can be experienced only by having an Onam sadhya.

The joy of festivities is in the minds

So dear friends, to conclude, you may be in different kinds of situations. Maybe you have office hours on onam day. Or the entire family may not be having holiday. Maybe no family member is there with you to celebrate. Make the best out of whatever you have.

Be in any part of the world, be it whatever festival that you are nostalgic about. Never give up the chance to enjoy the joy of the fete. Because we live in our minds. Our memories are what bind us to our culture. So we should make it a habit to remember the dates of festivities of our traditions.

Give them the best shot. Try to make the festival time enjoyable, so that you relive the memory of the place, the people the culture that you belong. The traditional songs, dances and food gives us the hope and the faith that the life must go one. We are part of a long chain of our ancestors and we have the responsibility to pass on the goodness of our clan to the posterity.

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