The pookkalam, roughly translated as a flower carpet, has always been an integral part of Onam. The festival kicks off on Atham day when courtyards and floors are decorated with colourful patterns woven out of flowers. This goes on for 10 days till Thiruvonam.
Like in the case of everything, the tradition, dimension and patterns of the pookkalams differ from region to region in the State. It was usual to see multi-tiered pookkalams in South Kerala with an image of Ganapathi placed in the centre of the last tier. With passage of time this must have changed in these regions. In Central Kerala, the Onathappans, this symbolises the Thrikkakarappan, or Vamanan, one of the avatars of Lord Vishnu, finds place at the centre.
In these days of readymade pookkalams , making a flower carpet everyday for 10 days till Onam has become rather a mechanical ritual. Gone are the days when making a pookkalam was a matter of pride. Children in every household competed with each other in collecting flowers and spreading out the most creative of pookkalams . The elders in the family would be at hand to encourage them and supervise the pookkalams .
Then somewhere down the line the joint families broke down, household courtyards shrunk, living spaces spread out vertically, trees cleared, flowers became scarce. The traditional flowers associated with Onam gave way to imports from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The art in making pookkalams became intricate and competitive. Competitions with huge prize money have become a feature of today’s Onam. Perhaps, these competitions, have to an extent kept alive the interest in this tradition. Now, when you think of pookkalams they are no longer the quaint, amateurish patterns that you laboured to create in the courtyards of yore. The image the flashes before you are the varied, multi-coloured, multi-dimensional, geometrical patterns that professional pookkalam artists create every year at the many competitions.
What is Onam without the pookkalams !