Pookalam is an intricate floral arrangement laid on the floor in the front courtyard of homes in Kerala. This colourful tradition of decorating homes with Pookalam is hugely popular in the state, followed dedicatedly during the ten days of Onam celebrations. Pookalam is the blend of two words, "poov" which means "flowers" and "kalam" meaning "colourful sketches on the ground". Also known as Athapoo, Pookalam is considered to be auspicious during the festival. It is believed by the people of Kerala that the scared spirit of their legendary king visits each household during the festival of Onam. So, just to ensure that the king doesn't return in dismay from their homes, the people decorate them lavishly in order to welcome their king Mahabali. This Pookalam is prepared by the maiden girls and the boys help them in gathering the flowers. There is addition of different flowers each day in Pookalam, and by the end of the festival, the intricate mat takes a massive shape.
Making of Pookalam in itself is a joyous event. It is wonderful to watch women prepare Pookalam while singing traditional folk songs. Being a group effort, Pookalam making creates a feeling of togetherness. Pookalam is a multi-tiered formation of flowers, petals and leaves, created on the front courtyard of a home. Idols of Mahabali and Vishnu too are placed in the centre of this beautiful mat on the final day of festivities. The designing of Pookalam begins on the very first day of Onam, Atham. Different flowers are used on each day as a specific flower has relevance to a particular day of Onam. Commonly used flowers include Thumba (Lucas Aspera), Kakka Poovu, Thechipoovu, Mukkutti (little tree plant), Chemparathy (shoe flower), Aripoo or Konginipoo (Lantana), Hanuman Kireedom (Red pagoda plant) and Chethi (Ixora). The arrangement remains untouched for the next 15 days. On the 15th day, Ayilyam, Pookalam is re-decorated. On the next day, Magam, a cut in the four corners of Pookalam is made with a knife. This marks the end of Pookalam decorations for the year.
Earlier people used to gather flowers from the gardens themselves for the making of Pookalam, but the trend seems to be changing. Now the people refer purchasing fresh flowers from the markets of the colours of their choice. At many places in Kerala, Pookalam decoration competitions are also organised. This event is witnessed by huge public who love to have a look at the innovatively magnificent designs of the Pookalams. Big prizes are also kept for this competition which encourages huge participation and stunning Pookalams are seen every year. Various colourful flowers, conception, along with commitment, team work and patience are the required to create a striking Pookalam.