Served traditionally on a plantain leaf, the ‘sadhya’ is an elaborate preparation for lunch enjoyed on Thiruvonam day. At least 11-12 dishes are prepared for this meal and when they are all finally served on the leaf, it makes for a spectacular sight, in addition to the fact that they make for absolutely delicious dishes. Onam offers a rich variety of delicacies including Payasam, upperi, pappads, pickles and many spicy vegetarian dishes.
The traditional snake boat race (Vallam Kali) is a major attraction during Onam eve. It is a form of canoe racing using paddled long boats and is reflective of the mirth and enthusiasm associated with the harvest season. In central Kerala Onam is not complete without Onathallu, a bare-fist fighting blending traditional wrestling with youthfulness, machismo and rural simplicity. Uriyadi, Pulikali, Thalappanthukali, Thumbithullal, Vadamvali and a host of other big and small events add to the charm and variety of Onam celebrations.
A clay pyramid structure with four faces and a flat top used during Onam celebrations symbolizes Thrikkakara Appan. This unique structure represents Vamana, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. For some people the pyramid represents both King Maveli and Vishnu. Alternatively, it is also known as Onathappan. Thrikkakarappan is the presiding deity in the famous Thrikakkara temple in Ernakulam District of Kerala and is the central motif of the Onam myth. It is believed that Vamana had sent Mahabhali to Patalam at Trikkakara. The place where the holy feet (Trikkal) of Vishnu touched came to be known as Trikkalkara. This later became Thrikkakara.
A major attraction for Onam is the floral carpet made for ten days starting with the star “Atham”. Locally known as Athapookalam or Onapookkalam, it is a distant cousin of Rangoli in North India and Kolam in Tamil Nadu.. Traditionally, the Pookalam consists of ten small round steps. The ten steps or rings are believed to represent ten different deities in Hinduism. There is also a belief that the floral carpet symbolically represents the fight between Asuras (demons) and Devas (Demi gods). Thiruvathirakali, Kummiyadi, Kaikottikkali, Mudiyattom, Kolkali and Kadhakali all add up to the rich cultural repertoire of Onam celebrations.