The Hindu Metroplus Pookkalam Contest keeps alive one of the prettiest traditions connected to Onam

Remember the Onam of your memories? Sadyas, onakkodi and of course, the pookkalams. Getting up early in the morning, hunting for flowers and decorating pookkalams were an important aspect of celebrating Onam. For the ten days starting from Atham to Thiruvonam, new permutations and combinations to enhance the beauty of the pookkalam would be tried out.

Pookkalam is, roughly translated, a carpet of flowers. This ‘carpet’ is not, however, one-dimensional. Kerala has region-specific interpretations of the pookkalam. For instance, in parts of south Kerala, pookkalams were three, five or seven tiered. With a ‘ganapathi’ placed on top of the last tier. In other parts of South Kerala and Central Kerala there are the three dimensional (pyramid-shaped with a flat top) Onathappans. Legend has it that the Onathappan or Thrikkakarappan, alternately, symbolises Vamanan and/or Mahabali.

The Thrikkara temple in Ernakulam, as we know, is closely associated with the legend of Onam. As one moves towards North Kerala, the pookkalams grow each day and on the tenth day, attain ‘maximum’ size. The beautiful pookkalams are meant to welcome Mahabali when he ‘visits’ his subjects for Onam.

In the old days, making a pookkalam was a matter of pride. Kids went about the business of collecting flowers and laying the pookkalams. Sometimes there would be supervision by the elder women in the families. The flowers that were available went into the making of the pookkalams. Then somewhere along the line when the compounds became smaller and the buildings got a bit taller, the flowers and the plants had to be cleared and someone thought of buying flowers. Chembarathi, thechi, kanakambaram, mandaram, thulasi etc gave way to the more ‘modern’ flowers.

And around the same time, a couple of decades back, the pookkalams went competitive. Competitions with huge amounts of prize money riding on them have become the order of the day. Whatever the traditionalists might say, these competitions have helped sustain an interest in the pookkalams.

When was the last time you put a pookkalam outside your house or apartment for that matter? “We have grown up, the kids are too tiny, no one’s interested, there are no flowers and there is no space…” there are excuses galore. In the background of such excuses, pookkalam competitions go a long way in perpetuating one of the most beautiful traditions connected to Onam. Although the pookkalams made at home retained the traditional touch, the competitive pookkalams have traversed the traditional route from making Ganeshas, nilavilaku and snakeboats to 3D floral carpets that even use leaves.

More In: Metroplus | Features