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 is used to represent abundance. If plenty of dishes are cooked in any house throughout the year then people say ‘for them every day is like Onam’.
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 celebrated with whatever was available in the Kitchen
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).
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 was because I was confined 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.
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 ) can be easily 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 the city this year- it was a high-protein Onam Sadhya. Delicious to the core and the banana leaves gave a complete feel to the Onam celebration. There were seven dishes, one-third of the number of dishes normally served for an Onam Sadhya.
The next day Munam Onam (third day of Onam ) we received a pass for Onam Sadhya at Kerala House. It was one of the best sadhyas I had in my life. I felt like I was attending a typical Hindu wedding in Kerala during my childhood days. I was reminded of another Onam proverb Onam und ariyanam which means Onam can be experienced only by having an Onam sadhya.