Onam, which is celebrated as the harvest festival and is also the biggest festival in Kerala, is a time to adorn the home with flowers. In Kerala, Onam is also called the ‘festival of flowers’, firstly, because during this season you can see a number of flowers blooming and available to beautify your homes. And secondly, pookalam (floral rangolis) are an important and inseparable part of the celebrations and tradition.
Since time immemorial, Malayalis have been decorating their home with fresh seasonal flowers in vibrant hues and making pookalam — poo meaning flower and kalam meaning colourful drawings. They make these floral rangolis at the entrance of their home to welcome King Mahabali. It is believed that he visits homes, which have beautiful pookalam and that is why families have pookalam-making competitions held during Onam.
HR professional from Kerala Karthika Pillai makes breathtaking pookalam both at home and her workplace. Giving us a peek into the ritual, she says, “Pookalam designs are created in front of the home because they are considered auspicious. We make pookalam on all 10 days of the festival. On day one (Atham), we make designs using one flower, followed by two flowers on the second day and so on. But nowadays, people use many varieties of flowers to increase the aesthetic value. However, thumba poovu (or goma madhupati in Hindi) — small white flowers are a must in all our designs. It is said that your flower mat is incomplete without thumba poovu,” quips Pillai.
Each day the design has to be bigger than the previous day’s and more intricate till the 10th or the main day of the festival.
Pillai says some of the most common flowers available during the season and used for the designs are chethi (flame of woods), hibiscus, Shankhupushpam (butterfly pea), marigold, kongini (lantana), Hanuman kireedam (red pagoda flower), and vadamalli (bachelor’s button). “Apart from these flowers, we also use rose and tulsi leaves,” she adds.
Pune-based Shewtha Nair says she misses the grandeur and magnitude at which Onam is celebrated in Kerala. However, she makes sure that she performs all the rituals in Pune. “Back in Kerala, you can see tonnes of flowers being bought from the market, everyone diligently picking up the freshest blooms and using their creativity to design a beautiful pookalam at the entrance of their homes. Here, although I do not make pookalam as intricate as in Kerala but I make sure each day my home is adorned with a new design,” says Nair.
She further says that although traditionally floral rangolis are made but nowadays those living away from their hometown also decorate their home with torans, flowers vases and so on.