Onam is one of the prime festivals of Kerala, celebrated by Keralites, including Palakkad Iyers, all over the world. Onam comes during August or September, specifically, during the tamil month of Aavani, or Malayalam month of Chingam or the Sanskrit month of Sravana, on the day the star Thiruvonam falls. This festival is similar to the Pongal festival in Tamil Nadu; the first harvest after the rain season, except that it is the first harvest in Kerala.
This year, 2017, Thiruvonam is celebrated on Monday, September 4th in India as well other countries, including the United States.
There is also a legend behind Onam. King Bali Chakravorthy the grandson of Prahlada, was a just and benevolent king, however, since he was a descendent of the Asuras, the Gods had to find a way to push him to Patalam, as the authority of heavens had to be restored to Indra from Bali, So, Lord Vishnu took the avatar of Vamana, a small Brahmin boy. Bali is known to give his people whatever they asked for, so taking advantage of this, Vamana asked for three measures of land, measured by his feet. Bali laughed and agreed. Vamana, grew in size, to the astonishment of Bali, and covered the entire heavens with one his right foot – first foot of land. With his huge left foot, he covered the patalas – the second measure of land. He then picked up his right foot again and asked Bali, where he could place it, and Bali, abandoning all pride and arrogance, offered his own head for the lord to place. Vamana, placed his foot on Bali’s head and pushed him to the Patalam. Lord Vishnu, called him Mahabali, because he was a Mahatma, a great soul and gave Mahabali one boon – to return to the earth and visit his people and ensure that they are prosperous. And this day was Onam.
In Kerala, the actual festival is celebrated for 9 days, from the day the star Hastham falls, until the 9th day, which is when Thirvonam falls. During these days, all Keralites decorate the front of their house with colorful patterns with colorful flowers, called “Pookkalam” around which ladies clad in the cream and golden robes (Onara Mundu or Kasavu Sari) dance (Kaikotti Kali) around the pattern rejoicing. On Onam, people buy and wear new clothes, called, Onakkodi, and prepare a grand feast. In Palakkad, the villagers celebrated the day prior to Thiruvonam, called Nirai day, when they bring the paddy (nelkadir) home after the first harvest of the day. Then, they take the nelkadir to the village temple and perform pooja and bring it back and mix that with cow dung, and fix it at important places at home. During this application, the pooja bell is rung and people chant “Nirayo nira”, meaning more and more, or prosperity. On the Thiruvonam day, they prepare payasam with the puthu nellu called puthari and do neivedhyam to the Gods.
When we think of Onam, the other major thing that comes to our mind is “Onam Sadhya”, the grand feast prepared with the harvest and served on a plantain leaf.
The items usually prepared for Onam are:
Pachadi (Sweet version)
Kichadi (Salty version)
Either Kootu/Kootu Curry or Erisheri
Arachu Vitta Sambar
Varathupperi (Nenthranga Chips)
Chakkara Varathupperi (Sweet Nenthranga Chips)
Payasam (Pal Payasam or Palada Pradaman or Idichu Pizhinja Ada Pradaman or Nenthrappazha Pradaman or Chakka Pradaman)
Yogurt or Curd
Hope you all have a great feast and great fun in preparing the dishes!
NOTE: The upperi recipes are in the process of being uploaded.