In Malayalam, "Sadhya" means an elaborate meal or feast celebrating auspicious occasions like Onam, weddings, birthdays, and other religious banquets.

Typically, Sadhya is served and eaten following rituals. Traditional boat race songs are performed before and after the feast, remembering the roots of Kerala’s rich cultural heritage. Sadhya advocates the true spirit of festivities through community eating and promotes happiness, brotherhood, and prosperity among the people participating in the community feasts.

But what’s Onam all about?

The festival of Onam and the legend behind it:

 Onam is the most significant cultural festival of Kerala, celebrated during the annual harvest season i.e., between August and September. Though Onam is a primarily Hindu festival, people from all religious backgrounds celebrate this festival with equal vigor. Throughout the ten days of Onam festivities, different cultural programs are organized to observe Onam along with the grand feast ‘Onam Sadhya or Onasadhya’ on the day of Thiru Onam. 

The most popular legend about the Onam:

Once, Lord Vishnu wanted to test the devotion of King Mahabali and attended the Yajna at his home, where Mahabali declared that he would grant all the wishes of anyone. Lord Vishnu came in the incarnation of a "Vaman", or a dwarf man, and asked the King to give him 3 paces of land. Mahabali agreed. As he offered a part of the land, he ruled. The Vamana grew to a huge size and covered the entire land on which Mahabali ruled with two paces. King Mahabali offered his head where the Vamana could keep his third pace. He passed the test. Lord Vishnu, in his Vaman incarnation, granted him the boon that Mahabali could return to the land he ruled every year. People believe that King Mahabali returns to his land on Onam and celebrate his return with different rituals.

Onam Sadhya (the elaborate spread)

In a traditional Onam Sadhya, around 24 to 28 food items are prepared for serving. The food is eaten using the right hand cupped as a ladle while sitting cross-legged on the ground. 

A traditional Onam Sadhya consists of the following food items:

1. Rice: Kerala Red Rice, or Matta Rice, is prepared for the Sadhya

2. Parippu Curry: Moong daal, or Tuvar daal, is prepared by tempering with onion slices, mustard, coconut, and curry leaves.

3. Sambar: Kerala Sambar is made by mixing vegetables, lentils, roasted spices, and roasted coconut. The sambar is tempered with asafoetida.

4. Aviyal: It is a densely concentrated curry prepared by mixing different vegetables, coconut and tempered with curry leaves and coconut oil.

5. Kootu Curry: This curry is made with banana or yam with the addition of chickpeas, coconut, and black pepper.

6. Kaalan: Kaalan is made with raw plantain or sometimes yam with curd and a coconut base and has a very low water content. This preparation is sour in taste.

7. Olan: Olan is a sweet dish prepared with coconut milk. In Olan, white gourd or black peas are used as vegetables.

8. Thoran: Various vegetables are sautéed with grated coconut to make Thoran. Usually, cabbages are used, but Thorans taste awesome with

beetroots and ash gourds too.

9. Kichadi: Kichadis are raita-like yoghurt-based preparations. Cucumbers and Okra (Ladies’ Fingers) are normally used with grated coconut and yoghurt.

while making kichadis.

10. Pachadi: Pachadis are coconut-based curries that taste sweet and sour. Cucumbers and ash gourds are generally used.

11. Sweet Pachadi: In Sweet Pachadis, sweet fruits like pineapple and grapes, and sweet vegetables like pumpkin are used with grated coconut and tempered with

with cumin seeds.

12. Puliseri: A thin, sour curry prepared using curd and cucumber. Sometimes ripe mangoes are used. When ripe mangoes are used, the curry tastes sweet.

13. Ulli Theeyal: Ulli, or pearl onions, are used to make this curry. Along with pearl onions, tamarind, coconut, and other spices are also used.

14. Pumpkin Erisseri: Pumpkin, cowpeas, and coconut are the main ingredients in preparing Erisseri. This curry tastes mildly sweet.

15. Koorka Stir Fry: Stir fried potatoes prepared in the Chinese style using very little spices.

16. Injipuli: A sweet pickle that uses ingredients like ginger, tamarind, jaggery, and green chillies.

17. Achaar: Commonly, 3 different spicy pickles, or achaar, are prepared using raw mangoes, lime, and lemon.

18. Pappadam: Papad prepared using lentil powder, which also serves as an appetizer.

19. Kaaya Varuthathu: Plantain chips

20. Sharkara Upperi: Banana chips sweetened with jaggery.

21. Appam: Rice flour pancakes prepared with bananas and whole wheat are also served in a Sadhya.

22. Uniyappam: They are the sweet rice flour fritters made with bananas and coconut.

23. Payasam: Assorted sweet dishes made with either rice, chana daal, moong daal, pineapple or aval (flattened rice) combined with milk, coconut milk and


24. Buttermilk (Sambaram): A cool drink made with whisked curd, spices, and curry leaves and refrigerated for an hour before serving. It's normally served at the end of a sadhya meal.

There’s no fixed order in which the Sadhya items are to be eaten. Some start with Aviyal, while some start with Payasams. Generally, the top half of the banana leaf on which the Sadhya is being served houses the accompaniments while the bottom half consists of rice and staple side curries. A sumptuous Sadhya meal is very healthy, nutritious, as well as delicious. Although, Onam Sadhyas are traditionally vegetarian, in the northern parts of Kerala, meat dish like Kozhi Curry is also served along with the other vegetarian food items, proving yet again that food habits are totally governed by available food resources and cultural heritage.