ELABORATELY DECORATED ELEPHANTS in procession at Thrissur; Kathakali artists at Cheruthuruthy; women performing Kaikotikalli - the graceful traditional clap dance; and Vallamkali, the popular snake boat race, are all part of celebrations to mark Onam, the harvest festival that celebrates Kerala's agrarian bounty. The feasts also serve to welcome the spirit of the good king Mahabali on his annual visit to his kingdom. What better than feasting and merriment to assure him that all’s well with his people.
Rice is the anchor of the strictly vegetarian Onasadya which features up to 13 to 15 curries that include a range of uppaeries (vegetable-based dishes); relishes referred to as uppilittathu or achaar; crispy papadams; and payasam, a sweet dish made of milk, sugar, and jaggery. Each of these items has a defined place on the plantain leaf, and is served in a definite order, with curries ladled out before the rice. While I’d advise you to dive in and enjoy it any way you like – if you look around you'll notice that those in the know observe a sequence as they partake in the feast: rice is eaten with parippu (dal) and neyyu (clarified butter), then with sambar, followed by rasam. After that, two kinds of payasam are served and meal concludes with rice, this time served with moru (spiced buttermilk).
Thrissur and Cheruthuruthy may be beckoning, but this Onam, we've brought Kerala closer. You can be assured of a sumptuous spread at Sheraton New Delhi’s Dakshin at the Onam Weekend from September 5th to September 7th, and a special Onasadya on September 7th. Mumbai’s ITC Grand Central also brings out the flavours and atmosphere of Onam at Hornby’s Pavilion on September 7th. Whether you're looking for a feast fit for a king or one worthy of a good harvest - book your dates for Onam.