What does it take to create a winning pookkalam? Here’s what past judges of the contest have to say…

When it’s a sea of floral tapestry, when each pookkalam is as well-designed a work of art as the next, it’s the judges who have their work cut out to choose the best among the best. “I’ve always found it to be a challenging task to judge The Hindu MetroPlus Pookalam contest because the standard of the pookkalams is exceptionally high. Kudos to The Hindu for organising such a fete,” says artist B.D Dethan, who has judged a number of the previous editions of the fete. “I remember being wonderstruck at the creativity of the contestants and being impressed by their sincerity to the task at hand,” he adds.

Artist S. Ajayakumar, former Principal, Raja Ravi Varma College of Fine Arts, Mavelikara, and College of Fine Arts, Kerala, who has been a judge at previous editions of the contest, including the past three editions, agrees and adds: “It’s very difficult to single out one or two pookalams as winners because they all tend to be very professional works of art.”

At The Hindu MetroPlus Pookalam contest, there are no hard and fast criteria for judging the designs. However, over the years, the prizes have gone to those teams who’ve managed to keep the pookkalams traditional but with a subtle and modern twist to it. “The idea is not to display abundance, which most often won’t win too many points with judges. But it’s to impress with creativity – using the flowers and leaves to weave designs that reflect the traditional culture of Kerala,” observes Ajayakumar.

“It is good that The Hindu MetroPlus restricts the use of unnatural elements (anything other than flowers and leaves) to make the pookkalams. These days, it’s particularly gratifying to see teams creatively weaving in traditional athapoo flowers such as thumbapoo (Leucas aspera), mukkutti (Biophytum sensitivum), kozhipoo (cockscomb), kakkapoo (Sispara creeper), besides traditional elements such as Thrikkakara appan into the designs,” he adds.

Already more than 35 teams have signed up for the contest, and it looks like the judges would have a tough time deciding the winners this time around too!

All dressed up

As an extra surprise, for the past three years now, The Hindu MetroPlus has also been giving prizes for the best dressed contestant/team at the Pookkalam contest that has proven to be a big hit with the women. The first year, it was a surprise contest but there were enough well-dressed contestants to put Sheila James, designer and proprietor of Czarina, in a dilemma in choosing the winner. The next year the contestants caught on to it, and most of the women came all decked up in Kerala saris with well-cut blouses and matching accessories. Says Sheila, who been a regular judge for this part of the event: “Over the years, I’ve noticed that the contestants take a lot of effort with their costumes. In fact, most of them could be designers in their own right! Last year, there were a lot of costumes that showed good taste. The winners (a team of teachers from Government Women’s College) came dressed in traditional kasavu mundu and neriyathu with a green-gold border, with hand-painted motifs of parrots and peacocks, and accessorised with matching palakka necklaces. That’s what we’re looking for – coordination, neatness, aesthetic appeal, and of course, good taste.”