Onam Sadhya: The Most Colorful Feast of Kerala

Onam is a festival celebrated throughout Kerala during the month of Chingam (August-September). It is also the harvest festival that pays tribute to the return of the mythical king Mahabali, who is said to have returned to Kerala during the Onam. The impressive feast of Onasadya is also served during the festival. It is a 9-course meal served on banana leaves, with a display of curries, rice and vegetable dishes.

The usual dishes on the menu are:

1. Kaaya varuthatha: sliced ​​bananas fried in small pieces.
2. Chena varuthathaam chips
3. Sarkara upperi - Jaggery covered banana chips
4. Puli Inji- Chutney made with ginger and tamarind.
5. Kichadi- Pumpkin in spiced yogurt
6. Pachadi- yogurt and pineapple sauce
7. Olan-Ash squash with black beans in coconut milk sauce
8. Theeyal-mixed vegetable sauce
9. Curried Kootu: black chickpeas
10. Erissery- Bean and pumpkin puree with coconut sauce.

Wait, it's not over! Sambar, rasam, spicy buttermilk, papad and of course, boiled rice!

Here are the More Onam food - Parippucurry, Injithair, Sambar, Avial, Kalan, Olan, Thoran, Puliinji, Pachhady pineapple, Erissery, Kootukari, Sarkarapuratty, Kaya Varuthathu, Pappadam, Payasam, Prathaman, Thokku Tomato,
kheer, Lady Kichadi's finger, Pesarattu masala, coconut chutney, Medu Vada, Dosas, Mor Kuzhambu, Kesari dried fruit, Banana Halwa, Pulissery, Mothagam, Palada Pradhaman, Pesarattu, Puttu rice, Theeyal, Rasam tomato, Dudhi (Chorekka) Pradhaman.

The festival of Onam is the most important festival of Kerala, the beautiful coastal state of South India that lives mainly in agriculture and with it the harvest is celebrated. It is celebrated with enthusiasm by all the Keralites without differences of caste and religion.

Onam falls at the beginning of the month of Chingam, the first month of the Malayalam calendar. It corresponds to the months of August-September and lasts ten days. The most important days are the Atham, the first day of Onam when the preparations for the festival are held and the Thiruonam, the tenth day and later we explain why.

During all ten days of the festival, there are sporting events, such as rowing competitions in the backwaters, the beautiful lagoon areas. There is the tug of war, and water festivals organized along the sacred river Pamba. There are traditional games like the Onakalikal, the Talappanthukali (a game with the ball). There are Ambeyyal (archery), Kutu Kutu and fights like Kayyankaliand Attakalam.

The Vallamkali (the serpent race) is a famous tournament. The muscular rowers compete on decorated "snake" boats which people enjoy with fervor. There are also other famous events like the Nehru Boat Race which take place before and after the 10 days of the festival.

There are also many cultural events and traditional dances presented in this period. There is the Thiruvathirakali, also known as Kaikottikali. The women perform in a circle around a lamp, or the Thumbi Thullal and the Kummattikali. In Thrissur, in particular, there is a spectacular parade of beautifully adorned elephants.

They are surrounded by dancers from Kummattikali who, when masked, go from house to house to perform the colorful dance. Even the traditional Kathakali dance is commonly performed during Oman.

The dancers stage mythological legends. In the Pulikali dance, then, known as the "dance of the tiger" or Kaduvakali, the artists paint their bodies like tigers in the colors of yellow, red and black. They dance to the rhythms of instruments like the Chenda and the Thakil. At the Thrikkakara temple, one of the most significant places of the festival, 20 km. from Cochin, every day of the Onam these and other performances are held with very good dancers and percussionists.

The Onam is as important as Christmas in the West. On the day of Thiruonam, people clean their houses. They apply, as a sign of welcome, the dough of rice flour at the entrance doors. They exchange gifts and give charity to the poor. The older woman in the family distributes new clothes (Vastra) to all members, according to a tradition called Onakodi, in order to renew their heart by eliminating all bad feelings.

Onam Sadya

The family gathers for the Onasadya, the traditional lunch served on banana leaves. It consists of 11 to 13 courses that everyone consumes, as is customary, with their hands and sitting on the ground. It ends with the payasam, an excellent dessert made with rice, boiled milk, and brown sugar. There is a saying, in this regard, Kanam Vittum Onam Hunnam.

During Onam, the streets are festively decorated and perfumed with incense. Most cities in Kerala, such as Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi (Cochin) and Thrissur, are illuminated with lights and fireworks. On the streets of Trivandrum, mimosa trees are loaded with lots of lights. In the temples, churches, and mosques there are special prayers and this demonstrates the secular nature of the festival.

In the Thrikkakara temple, attended by more than twenty thousand people, in the afternoon traditional games and dances take place.

The day of Thiruvonam is a special day. The children and women prepare in front of their houses the carpet of flower petals called Ona-Pookalam to welcome King Mahabali. History tells us that during the reign of this powerful king Kerala lived its golden age. Everyone was happy and prospering and so the king was much appreciated by his subjects.

Next to the Pookkalam which resembles the rangoli made of color powder which is the custom of North India in the courtyards of the houses, pyramidal earth mounds represent Mahabali and Vamana.

The most important celebrations of the Onam end with Thiruvonam. The Onathappan statue that has been placed at the center of each pookkalam during the last 10 days is immersed in the river or in the sea. Then the Pookkalam is removed. Important is also the famous event of the Pulikali (tiger dance) that takes place in the city of Thrissur.

In this, men dressed as lions, tigers, and leopards, parade through the city in large numbers. The Pulikali also marks the end of the traditional Onam celebrations.

The festival lasts 10 days, four of which are official holidays. Of these, the most important are the first, Atham, and the last, Thiruvonam. During the festival, the naturally vibrant landscapes of Kerala come to life with panache and offer everything from local dances to elephants to the famous Alleppey snake boat competition.

Onam without Sadhya is like Diwali without lights. The Sadhya would have a variety of dishes including Pulishery, Erishery, Sambar, Avial, Pappadam, Pickles, and more.

Rasam can be used as a soup or a curry that would aid digestion after a heavy meal.

Pulishery, one of the traditional dishes in Kerala made with yogurt and grated coconut.

Olan is made with red squash, long green chowli, dry red chowli with coconut milk.

Upperi is a snack that is served alongside other main and side dishes. There are two types of upperi that would be served. One of them is Banana chips and the other is Sarkaravaratti. Banana chips, as the name suggests, are the deep-fried pieces of raw banana.

There would be different types of Payasam , and it would be the family's choice. Ada Pradhaman - Ada Payasam, Parippu Pradhaman, Nenthrapazha Pradhaman, Chena Kilangu Payasam, Mampazha Pradhaman are some of them.


Avial is an important dish in Onam sadhya. It is made with vegetables and coconut paste. Potato, carrots, raw banana, chicken thigh, beans are used for the preparation. Avial is a vegetarian dish typical of South India, in particular it is believed to have its origin in Kerala, and is composed of a dry mixture of vegetables with coconut and curry leaves.

Avial is one of the dishes of Sadhya, the banquet of the most important festival in Kerala, Onam, the Hindu festival that traces the birth of the state of Kerala every year in its legendary origin.

Method of preparation

Cut 2 carrots and drumstick into sticks, 1 plantain, 1 cucumber, 1 sweet potato and 1 onion into cubes.

Coarsely grind 2 full tablespoons of grated coconut, 1 tsp cumin seeds and garlic together.

Meanwhile, bring the mixed vegetables, onion, salt and 1 tsp chilly powder to a boil in a little water, a couple of glasses maximum. Wait for it to dry and then add 1 tomato and finish cooking well.

At the end of cooking add the coarsely ground paste, previously prepared and cook for another 2 minutes, continuing to mix.

Add the oil and curry leaves, leave to rest and serve.

Cabbage Thoran

Wash 1 cabbage and chop finely. You can also use a grater if it suits you more.

In a pan or wok, heat 2 tsp coconut oil, add 1 tsp black mustard seeds and wait for them to crackle. At this point add 1 tsp cumin and fry until the seeds are colored. Then add 1 finely chopped onion and using a wooden or metal spoon, fry until it becomes translucent. Then add 1 chopped chilli and 10 curry leaves and let them brown for a minute, then add 1/2 tsp turmeric and little asafoetida and fry for a few more seconds. At this point add the cabbage and season with salt, continuing to turn and letting it brown for a few minutes.

Cover the pot and let it simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally. If you see that the cabbage is too dry, add just half a glass of water, or even less, cover and continue cooking.

Only when the cabbage is cooked can you add 1/2 cup grated coconut, mixing well and cooking for another 2/3 minutes. If the contents are still damp, leave on the fire a little longer until the steam is completely absorbed.

When cooked, it can be garnished with a few leaves of fresh coriander to taste.

You can serve with white rice or chapati bread.

Beet pachadi

Grate 3 small cooked beets and heat for a few minutes in a saucepan. In a blender, mix 1 cup of freshly grated coconut with 1 green pepper, 1 small shallot, 1/2 tsp of cumin, 4-5 curry leaves, salt, mix well with a little hot water to obtain a fluid paste. Add this paste to the beets, cook for a few minutes, stirring. It should no longer be too runny.

Remove from the heat, and wait for it to cool. Meanwhile, fry in a small pan with 1 tbsp of oil (coconut if you have) 1 tsp of black mustard seeds, then 1 dozen curry leaves and 2 minced shallots. Add 2 cups yogurt shaken well in advance to the beets as well as what you have just fried and mix.

It can be eaten both warm and cold. Do not reheat.Not only is it delicious but it also brings a very colorful note to the plate!


It is said that Kerala Sambar is different from the other states of southern India. As far as I know, in other states, the recipe consists of a single common vegetable, while Kerala sambar would have several vegetables, such as potatoes, tomatoes, sticks, cucumbers and many others.

First put a large knob of tamarind paste to swell in lukewarm water. Cook 2 handfuls of toor dhal in a pressure cooker for 10 minutes in 2 cups of water with 1/2 tsp of turmeric and salt. During this time peel and cut drumsticks, a dozen okra or ladies fingers, 2 potatoes, 2 tomatoes, 1 large onion, 2 carrots, 1 tiny pumpkin, a small eggplant, a piece of elephant yam into big chunks!

Add them to the dal in the casserole dish with the onion. Squeeze the tamarind and collect the juice only, add it to the casserole dish (add water if necessary). Put everything to cook under pressure for 15min. In a small pan, heat 1 tbsp of oil, crack 1 tsp of black mustard seeds, then ten curry leaves, add ten small shallots and 2 cloves of minced garlic, brown, then 2-3 tbsp of sambhar powder, fry 1 to 2 minutes. Add this to the cooked vegetables, and that's it!

Coconut chutney

In a chopper, mix 100g of grated coconut with 6-7 small shallots, 1 or 2 green peppers, 5 curry leaves and a little water. In a small saucepan, heat 2 tbsp of oil, add mustard seeds, then another 5 curry leaves, then the spices. Add the mixed coconut, leave to heat for 5 minutes, add water depending on whether you want your chutney to be more or less liquid, and season well with salt.


Put 2 cups of un-cooked white rice to soak overnight (at least 4 hours). The next day, rinse and drain the rice. Mix it in a solid blender or a good blender with 1 cup of water. Obtain a liquid but thick paste. (If you are using rice flour, mix it with water until you get a thick but runny dough).

Put 1 sachet of baker's yeast in a glass with a bit of lukewarm water and a pinch of sugar until it swells well.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine 1/3 cup of rice flour with 1 cup of water. Let the mixture thicken over low heat until you get a kind of pudding, you must stir vigorously to avoid lumps. You can replace the pudding with 1/2 cup cooked wheat semolina or drained cooked rice. Mix this with the dough, mix everything. Add the yeast and mix.

Leave to rest for a few hours, covered. The mixture should rise and be full of small bubbles. Before cooking the appams, add 1 cup of coconut milk and mix well. Allow about 1/2h to cook all these appams (the dough cannot be kept). Once the dough has a nice consistency full of bubbles, put a small wok or a small pan (but then they will not have their characteristic shape, thick in the middle and thin at the edges) to heat over medium/low heat.

Using a paper or potato or onion cut in half and dipped in oil (sesame for me), lightly oil the wok. Place a nice ladle of dough in the center then turn the wok to distribute the dough on the sides (but not too much, not like pancakes). Cover, this is important, and cook for a few minutes. Cook on one side, the edges should lightly brown and small holes should form on the surface. You can readjust the consistency of the dough with lukewarm water or rice flour to make it more or less thick.

Stack the appams in a tea towel or closed container and serve instantly. You can keep them for 2 days in the fridge and heat them in steam (or in the microwave with a little water added on the surface).
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  • elengenesseajm
    elengenesseajm September 11, 2011 at 3:44 PM

    I loved reading about the festival and the elaborate meal prepared. The food looks amazing!

  • P.N. Subramanian
    P.N. Subramanian September 21, 2011 at 10:34 AM

    The sadhya was quite grand. You have shown other dishes like Idli, Vada, Dosa, Idiappam, Puttu etc. Brief particulars could have gone with them. Ela Ada is not there?

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