Irrespective of caste, creed or religion, practically every household in Kerala, rich or poor, the one common thing would be the traditional vegetarian 26-dish Onam lunch, more popularly called ‘Onam sadhya’ on the occasion of Onam festival being celebrated on Wednesday.
It is the traditional harvest festival of Kerala and of the three most important days, Thiru Onam, the second day of the Onam festival, falls on Wednesday.Even though most households go for the vegetarian lunch on the first second and third Onam, Thiru Onam is the mother of all vegetarian meals for them.
The only way that the sadhya becomes complete is when it’s eaten from the plantain leaf, with hands and it’s a perfect 10 out of 10 if its eaten seated on the floor, which, has now become a rarity.Incidentally, old-timers are very particular that the 26-dish lunch is served on the leaf in a very strict order and there is an order for serving the curries poured on to the rice, too.
The mouth-watering lunch includes chips, papads, various preparation of vegetables, a good number of pickles both sweet and sour, the traditional aviyal, sambar, dal served along with a small quantity of ghee, rasam, two different preparations of buttermilk, a chutney powder prepared from grated coconut and not to mention a series of payasams eaten either straight or mixed with a ripe small plantain.
Onam also brings out sartorial changes to practically every Keralite and eating the lunch in it, is another feature of the day. While the ladies prefer to wear the traditional set, which almost looks like the sari, which is a single-piece dress, the younger ones are mostly spotted in the now rarely seen, the traditional skirt (pavada) and blouse.
And not to be left out, most men prefer to wear the mundu (dhoti).But according to old-timers, the biggest change in all this, while in yesteryears, preparation for Onam in most households begins a month before, when practically special vegetables that are to be used for the sadhya, are identified from the homesteads besides pickles are all prepared well in advance.
“Those times have all disappeared into oblivion and I don’t think anyone has the time for all this now. In today’s fast world, everything is available on fingertips and just a phone call will see you the Onam sadhya delivered at your doorstep in a matter of 30 minutes,” said 82-year retired teacher Geetha Nampoothiri.