Onam sadya in Champakulam
According to legends, Maharaja of Kochi used to march from Tripunithura to Vamanamoorthy temple in Thrikkakara where the festival of Onam originated.
Onam in Kerala is a festival that celebrates collaborations, communities, and camaraderie. My mom belonged to Changanacherry (Kottayam District) and my father belonged to Champakulam Allapuzha district). Interestingly Onam at both places was differential because Changanacherry my mom's home was next to the High Court whereas Champakulam by father's home lay on the banks of the Pamba. If Changanacherry was accessible by road, Champakulam in the 50's to 70's was accessible only by motor boats or passenger liners.
Tracing back to the interesting beginnings of this festival, the Maharaja of Kochi used to march from Tripunithura to Vamanamoorthy temple in Thrikkakara where according to legends the festival of Onam originated. Onam is grandly celebrated throughout Kerala with a lot of joy and gaiety. But there are a few places where a majority of people gather for celebrating the festival.
My uncle was one of the patrons of the Nehru trophy boat race. 'Champakulam' is an important region – which celebrates Onam with the Snake boat race or Vallamkali. More than 100 oarsmen in each boat participate in the celebration and sing worship songs of King Mahabali while racing.
On this day my uncle's home called 'Shanti Bhavan' – was an open house and long rows of banana leaves would be laid out in three rooms to serve 'Onam Sadya' to visitors. At my uncle's home, pickles and vegetables would all be cut and ready the night before while mountains of freshly grated coconut would be grated early morning. Supervision would be done by a veteran 'Namboodhiri' who belonged to the – 'Ambalapuzha' temple of which the family was patrons for generations.
The sadya is served on plantain leaves – the top part is kept for visitors and the lower part for house inmates. When hot red rice is served along with the many curries – the subtle aroma of the blanched leaf mixed with the delicate smell of various curries tickles the palate.
The 'Onasadya' is renowned to be "disciplined" and tradition-bound and has many health goals. There's a ritual to how it's served on the banana leaf. Chips and pickles go on the leaf first and then, in clockwise order, inji curry, pickles, three varieties of kichadi (cucumber with mustard, beetroot with ginger and bitter gourd with garlic), two pachadis, Madeira curry, thoran, avial, and koottu curry.
On the banana leaf, each element has its place. The banana leaf is a medley of a variety of banana chips. The sweet sharkkaravaratti combines jaggery, dried ginger, and chips. Acids in the stomach and circulation are stimulated and aid metabolism.
The injipuli, a ginger and jaggery concoction soothes the digestive system. It is a dish of abundant fiber, antioxidants, vitamin C and also serves to balance acidity in the stomach. All the curries are first put in their respective places except the parippu,sambar and rasam. The pappadum an eternal favourite is placed just before the rice which is put last, and just a small portion. The idea is that all the vegetables when eaten fill you up so you eat very little rice. A health goal in the alchemy of traditions.
The sadya opens with pappadum, parippu (lentils) and ghee, a balanced diet fat and protein. This combination aids digestion. Then there is the eternal aviyal ( a melange of vegetables), eaten in combination with sambar. The flavour of fresh coconut oil in the aviyal is a heavenly flavour.
This is followed by olan (without black-eyed peas), rasam and buttermilk. Each curry gets priority. Olan, which is a light curry made with ash gourd and coconut milk, is said to have medicinal properties. The pumpkin and coconut dish laced with curry leaves - errissary is yet another antioxidant-rich curry. Rasam and buttermilk too aid in digestion because of their lithe lightness.
Then come the historic sweet payasams – ada, parippu/wheat or pazham pradhaman and boli with paal payasam made with broken chemba rice. Each dish has medicinal properties and aids digestion even as it speaks of health goals. After lunch was over we would all head to the banks of the river sit on the steps and watch the Vallamkali (boat race).