Onam is one of the major harvest festivals, which is celebrated on a grand level in Kerala. It is the state festival and this day is declared as the holiday by the state government. One of the unique features of this festival is the making of Pookalam i.e. the floral decoration or the carpet of flowers. The flowers are laid in a very beautiful intricate pattern on the floor. The making of Pookalam, which starts from day one, continues till the last, by adding on more flowers, thereby increasing the size and the magnificence of its design. The making of Pookalam is a tradition which is followed by the people of Kerala by heart and by making this they give a warm welcome to King Mahabali, who on this occasion comes to visit his state and to meet his people.
Pookalam & Its Significance
In Malayalam language, 'Poo' stands for 'flower' whereas 'Kalam' stands for 'artwork'. It is an intricate and very colourful arrangement of flowers which, when laid on the floor, gives an appearance of a carpet made purely of flowers. The tradition of making Pookalam in front of the main entrance is very old and is followed by everyone who belongs to Kerala. It is followed as a ritual of this 10 day long Onam festival. The making of Pookalam begins from the first day i.e. Atham and goes on till the last day known as Thiruvonam. On the very first day, basic design is made and then every day, particular flower is used for making the designs. The most commonly used flowers are such as Thumba (Lucas Aspera), Kakka Poovu, Thechipoovu, Mukkutti (little tree plant), Chemparathy (shoe flower), Aripoo or Konginipoo (Lantana), Hanuman Kireedam (Red pagoda plant) and Chethi (Ixora). Out of all the flowers, Thumba is one of the very significant flowers as it is considered as the favourite flower of Lord Shiva and the King Mahabali was a great devotee of Lord Shiva.
On the day of Atham, the size of Pookalam is called as Athapoo. On this day, only yellow flowers are used and the designs are very simple. In the middle of the Pookalam, the idols of King Mahabali and Vamana are placed. On the second day, a second layer is added by using flowers of two different colours. After this day, the size of the Pookalam is increased by using 4 to 5 types of flowers. On the 6th day, 5 to 6 types of flowers are used to make the design much bigger. From the 8th day i.e. is Pooradam, the size of the Pookalam begins to be massive and the designs gets more intricate and mesmerising.
The Pookalam is made on the occasion of Onam to give a warm welcome to King Mahabali, who during this festive time comes to visit his princely state and to observe that, whether his people are living with peace and unity or not. At some places, the nakshatram of the day is marked through the Pookalam. For example, on the day of Moolam, Pookalam is made with four corners. Also, it is said that that the ten rings of the Pookalam symbolise the ten holy deities of the Hindu religion.
Pookalam Designs & Competitions
The designs of Pookalam can be simple as well as complex. In some designs, birds like peacock, parrot are made; in some holy deities are made and in others the picture of King Mahabali is made. Geometrical designs, Kathakali dancer's face, and floral designs are also made in the Pookalam. These are the commonly found patterns of Pookalam. In addition to this, themes such as the cultural dances of Kerala, including Mohiniyattam and Kathakali are used for making the Pookalam. Pookalam design competitions are organised by various groups and societies in the state;, the state level competitions of Pookalam are also held. People take part with great enthusiasm in these competitions and the winners are awarded with grand prizes. People gather in a large number to take part as well as to observe the artistic innovation of the artists from different parts of the country.