Pookalam is an intricate and colourful arrangement of flowers place on the floor in front courtyard. Tradition of decorating the Pookalam is extremely popular in Kerala. This is followed as a ritual in every household during the ten-day-long Onam festival.
‘Pookhalam’ is made of two words. These are ‘poov’ meaning flower and ‘kalam’ meaning coloured sketches on the ground. People of Kerala consider it auspicious to create Pookalam or Aththa-Poo during the festival of Onam.
People believe that the spirit of their dear King Mahabali visits Kerala during Onam festival. People of Kerala are engaged in making several arrangements for the Onam festival. Meanwhile, mostly adolescent girls prepare elaborate unique Pookalams to welcome their most beloved King Maveli.
Making of a Pookalam:
Kilos of varieties of flowers, dedication, creativity, techniques are basically essential for creating eye catching Pookalam. Team effort materialises the creation of the colourful, decorative, exotic, designed Pookalam.
Athapoovu are usually circular in shape. This has multi-tiered, colourful arrangements of flowers, petals and leaves. Any use of coloured powders, desiccated coconuts or artificial flowers is strictly prohibited. The Pookalams are normally placed on the front courtyard of the house. Idols of King Mahabali and Lord Vishnu are placed in the centre of Pookalam and worshiped. The diameter of a Pookalam usually ranges from four to five meters.
Pookalam ritual of creating flower mats continues for all ten days of the Onam festival. Making of the Pookalam designing begins on Atham and continues till Thiruvonam. The basic design is made on the very first day. The size of Pookalam increases since more flowers are added to it on every passing day. Thus, by the final day, the Pookalam is massive for the main special occasion. Preparing Pookalam is extremely creative task since designers have to make a new design ever day.
Various flowers are used for creating the Pookalam. On each day a specific flower is dedicated to the deities of Onam festival. Common flowers include Thumba [Lucas Aspera], Kakka Poovu, Thechipoovu, Mukkutti [little tree plant], Chemparathy [shoe flower]. Other flowers include Aripoo or Konginipoo [Lantana], Hanuman Kireedom [Red pagoda plant] and Chethi [Ixora]. Out of these flowers, Thumba flowers are given most importance while creating the Pookalam. Thumba flowers are minute in size but they glitter in the soft rays of the sun. ‘Thumba Poo’ is considered to be Lord Shiva’s favourite flower. King Mahabali was a devout worshipper of Lord Shiva.
Next day of Onam, Thumba flowers are used for decorating Onapookalam. This arrangement is left untouched for next 15 days. Again, on the 15th day called ‘Ayilyam’, Pookalam is decorated. Next day called ‘Magam’, Pookalam is given a cut in its four corners with a knife. This marks the end of Pookalam decorations for the year. Some people traditionally erect a small pandal over Poolakam, the completed flower carpet. They decorate it with colourful festoons.
Making of Pookalam is itself a colourful and joyous event. Making Pookalam is a team effort. Hence, this generates a feeling of togetherness and goodwill amongst the people. Watching young women singing traditional songs while preparing Pookalam animate everyone. The girls giggle while sharing jokes between thought provoking and back breaking job of preparing Pookalam.
Earlier people used lots of effort to collected flowers for creating and designing the Pookalam. Children got up very early in the morning. They gathered flowers in their small ‘Pookuda’ [basket] from the village gardens. These days, the trend is people have the option to buy flowers from the market. These flowers are available in all kinds of shapes and colours.
There are Pookalam decoration competitions organised by various societies and groups in Kerala on Onam day. The competitions have become extremely popular and they witness huge public participation’s. Since these are extremely competitive events, big prizes are awarded in these contests. Large number of people assembles just to look at the innovative and meticulously prepared art pieces.
The Pookalam has a beautiful design that is said to be created at the heart. Also, technology is used in vogue in designing of the Pookalam. People first use the computer to prepare the design. Later, they implement the same design for Pookalam on the floor. As a result, a lot of time and energy is saved. In addition, the designers can come up with stunning Pooukalams.