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‘Athappookalam’ losing traditional verve

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Ignatius Pereira

KOLLAM: Like the sumptuous Onam lunch, new ethnic clothes, Onam songs and the swing, the ‘athapookalam’ (floral carpet) is one of the mandatory traditional ingredients for welcoming the mythical ‘Mahabali’ for celebrating Onam. But of late the Onam floral carpets are losing their traditional aura.

The traditional ‘athapookalam’ may not look as hi-tech as the ones created now. But they spoke volumes about the healthy environmental condition of Kerala. That is because the flowers that made up the ‘athapookalam’ of the past were endemic to the area. They were collected in an adventurous spirit by children and elders from courtyards and meadows.

Since Onam comes after the first spell of the monsoon, there are plenty of such flowers available all over the State. “But where have these flowers gone?” asks the former professor of botany and environment activist N. Ravi. They had become almost extinct now because they were not needed even for Onam, he said.

Some of the flowers endemic to the area that made up the Onam floral carpets of the past were thetti (ixora), thumba (leucas), erikku (calotropis), prasarini (merremia), rajamalli (caesalpinia) and dashapushpams like the cheroola (aerva), mukkutti (biophytum), muyalcheviyan (Emilia), poovan karanthan (Vernonia) and thiruthali (ipomea). Even the leaves of tamarind tree and ‘pookula’ from coconut palms were used abundantly.

Not only are these flowers rarely seen now, even other traditional flowers are not used.

Instead commercial flowers that are not endemic to the State are now being lavishly used. They include rose, dahlias, asters, neriums, chrysanthemums and zinnia to name a few.

No doubt, they make the ‘athapookalam’ more conspicuous. But then the advent of the exotic flowers is at the cost of the very existence of the flowers endemic to the area, said Prof. Ravi. They had also made the ‘athapookalam’ out of the reach of common man.

The minimum cost of a single ‘athapookalam’ that came up for a competition would cost at least Rs.5,000 he said. These days only clubs and the rich would be able to take part in such competitions. The common man could only watch this traditional Onam insignia from a distance. Prof. Ravi said such floral carpets were only ‘commercial athappookalams.’

Wanton development projects without any consideration for environment were the reasons for flowers of the area becoming extinct.

Neither was there any attempt to save them, he said. Prof. Ravi said if competition for ‘athapookalam,’ created exclusively with traditional flowers, was organised at least from next year, it would make a small beginning to save the flowers endemic in nature.

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