Pookalams are floral patterns made on the ground, on the occasion of the Kerala festival, Onam. As a child, I have enjoyed making such pookalams for ten days prior to Onam, along with my little cousins. We used to pluck flowers from our Appooppan’s (grand father) garden and create little pieces of art. The pookalam would be small on the first day, they grow in size each day, and they will be the biggest and the prettiest on Thiruvonam, the main day. Making the pookalam, also called athapoo, are among my fondest memories of childhood.
Here in the city of Chennai, we buy the flowers as our little garden does not have a sufficient supply of flowers. Today, on the day of Thiruvonam, the three of us, my husband, the little one and myself, made a small and simple Pookalam. It was a great experience for Vaiga (the little one) and she took great care in making sure she does not spoil the pookalam by accident.
Now, for those who would like to make a simple pookalam for the next Onam, here is a step by step process that we followed.
1. Collect the flowers. Try to get as many colors as you can. The more colors and contrast, the better.
2. Prepare the flowers for the athapoo. We generally take the petals out from the stalk, as this would make the kolam flat and dense. You can also keep the flowers as they are if you wish, but the floor may show through in this case.
3. Clean the ground. Draw the pattern on the floor with a chalk. We chose a simple floral design as we like it the traditional way.
4. Decide the colors for each area. Contrast colors always make the pookalam pretty. We also try to follow a light to dark rule (from the centre towards the edges – we have followed a white-yellow-orange-pink pattern) as the gradation adds to the beauty.
5. Start laying flowers. Always start from the centre so as not to disturb the later layers. After finishing one color, make necessary adjustments to the edges and shapes to see they look close to perfect to the naked eye.
6. Lay flowers one by one as per pattern. Keep on making each layer perfect before proceeding to the next.
7. Lay the border. A dark color is highly preferred for the border as this would give more definition to the pattern.
8. Place the central flower. Always keep a big attractive flower for the centre. If the pookalam is going to be big, the central flower should be placed first to avoid difficulties of placing it later.
9. Look from all possible angles and make adjustments till you are satisfied.
10. Clean the place off any leftover flowers. Admire your pookalam. Go eat Ona sadya (the Onam feast ).
Happy Onam all