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God’s Own Country Kerala is a delight to be in during Onam as the State comes alive with festivity. The harvest festival is celebrated in Kerala to mark the return of King Mahabali, who ruled the state once and in his reign the people were treated equally and were prosperous and happy. 

Onam is a 10-day festival and Onam Sadhya, a 26-dish vegetarian feast, which is served on the 8, 9 and 10th day of Onam is the much sought after the custom of this festival.

Sadhya in Malayalam means a banquet. It is the elaborate vegetarian meal, traditionally served on a mat laid on the floor. The dishes are served on a plantain leaf and are served in the noon.

The biggest Sadhya is served at Pardasardi Temple in Aramula. A total   64 items are made for the Aranmula boat race, a popular event conducted during Onam.

There is a popular Malayali saying, "Kanam Vittu Onam Unnanam", which means "We should have the Thiruvonam lunch even if it costs us to sell our properties".

There is even a distinct order in the way the food is served on the banana leaf. Pappadum is placed on the extreme left of the leaf. On the top of the big pappadum, banana is served. 

Starting from the right of the papad, salt, sarakarapuratti and banana wafers are placed. Only after this, ginger lime and mango pickles are served on the leaf. On the right, 'cabbage thoran' is served. 

Finally avial and kuttu curry is served 'Payasam', a sweet and tempting porridge is one of the favourite desserts served for sadhya. 

There are at least four different variety of payasam which is served along with Parippu, Sambar, Rasam, Pulisseri, Kaalan, Avial, Thoran, Olan, Pachadi, Mango pickle, Naranga curry, Papadum, Banana, Curd or Buttermilk, and plantain chips.

The main dish is plain boiled rice, served along with other dishes collectively called Kootan curries, which include curries like Kaaya varuthatha (banana chips), Chena varuthatha (yam chips), Sarkara upperi (Jaggery coated banana chips), lime pickle, kaduggu maga Achar ( mango pickle), Olan (tamarind and ginger chutney),

Theeyal (mixed vegetable gravy), Erissery (mashed beans and pumpkin with coconut gravy),  Kichadi (Gourd in mildly spiced yoghurt), Avial  (Mixed vegetable, coconut curry), Puliserry (yogurt based curry), Kootu curry (black chickpeas curry), Sambar, Rasam, Bananas, Papad Payasam.

Sadhya on banana leaf
Eating food on a banana leaf is considered healthy. Placing hot food on the leaves emanates several nutrients that enrich food. It also adds to the aroma of food and enhances the taste. Leaf is folded and closed once the meal is finished. Closing the leaf towards you (top to bottom – inward) signifies complete satisfaction with the food and closing it away from you would mean a signal to the cooks that it needs improvement.

At the end of the meal, the right corner of the leaf is slit upwards to signify that the leaf has already been used. Apparently, people polished all this off so spotlessly that often it was hard to make out if the leaf was used or not! And turning it toward oneself is a subtle message to the cook, that there is room for improvement and folding it away from yourself obviously means complete and utter satisfaction.

By: Ginu Vinu
The writer is home maker and cook from Kakinada