Traditional Onam Pookkalam

Traditional Onam Pookalam. Tradition vs Pop Culture

Traditional Onam Pookalam. Tradition vs Popular Culture. Onam Pookalam is synonymous with Onam itself. Therefore, the festival of Onam in incomplete without a Pookalam. The floral design made of fresh flowers is called by different names. It is Pookkalam, Onappookkalam, Athappookkalam and even simply Athappoo in the southern districts of Kerala.

Traditional Onam Pookalam Setting

The Traditional Onam Pookalam setting starts on the day of Atham in the month of Chingam. In popular culture, in most of the movies and advertisements, Pookalam looks all the same. Such Pookalam looks like a carpet made of flowers bought from the market.  Above all, the reality is that traditional Pookalam design has different variants and right from Atham day to Thiruvonam day.

Firstly, there are certain rules for the ritualistic Traditional Pookkalam on each day. however, in this article we will elaborate the age-old tradition of laying Traditional Pookalam and how to make Pookkalam in a traditional way. In the same way, the ten days of Onam season, starting from the day of Atham till Thiruvonam is celebrated differently. Each day has its own significance.

Traditional Onam Pookalam, the process

Traditional Onam Pookalam is not something that is laid on the Thiruvonam day. In addition, in the contemporary Kerala, we have seen people who have no idea about the tradition of Pookkalam making a flower design on the Thiruvonam Day. However traditionally it is not the way to go. Secondly, the interesting fact is that, traditionally, on the Thiruvonam day no Pookkalam is actually laid.

However, few rituals are done at the “Pooppada”which means the slightly elevated platform on which Pookkalam is laid. Thiruvonam day is the closing ceremony of the 10-day-long Traditional Onam Pookalam laying ceremony. The biggest Pookalam is made on the day prior to Thiruvonam. The day is called Uthradam. We will elaborate the styles of traditional Pookkalam on each day of Onam starting from Atham till Thiruvonam. Real pictures of traditional Onam Pookalam are also included here.

Day-1 Atham

Traditional Pookkalam on Atham Day. Thumbapoo kept on Tulsi leaves. Floor smeared with cow-dung

The first day of the Onam festival commences with Atham. In most places, a visit to the nearby temple is a must early in the morning to seek blessings from Paradevatha (Family Deity) for the successful completion of the Onam festival. Mahabali’s travel from the Pathala begins on the day of Atham, it is believed. Similarly, Athachamayam is a main attraction of the day. In addition, many processions are conducted in many temples across Kerala. However, the most popular Athachamayam is at Thrippunithura. It is believed that Mahabali left to Pathala from the Earth at Thrippunithura.

Selecting Location for Traditional Onam Pookkalam

Firstly, the location for laying Pookkalam for the next 10 days is set on Atham day. However, the location for Traditional Onam Pookalam is in the front courtyard of the house, directly in front of the main door. In other words, traditional Onam Pookalam is never set in the interiors of the house or in the verandas as depicted in popular culture. After that, a circular area is de marked and gravel, or grass if any are removed. secondly, cow dung is applied and the floor is made even using the cow dung. The wet cow dung also ensures that the flowers won’t wade off easily.

On the day of Atham only Tulsi leaves and Thumbapoo (Thumba Flowers) are used. After that, the Tulsi leaves (Basil Leaves) are kept in the middle of the circular area marked for Pookalam and Thumba are kept on it. However, Thumba flowers are extremely small white flowers. They are about just half a centimetre in length. A Thumba flowers kept together will just make the size of a small lemon! In addition, no other flowers are used on the day of Atham in Traditional Onam Pookalam. The Pookalam on this day is called Athappoo. However, in popular culture Athappo is the name given to all types of colourful Pookalam.

Day-2 Chithira

Traditional Pookkalam on Chithira day. White flowers along with Thumba Poo
Traditional Pookkalam on Chithira day. White flowers along with Thumba flower

Chithira or Chithra is the second day of Onam celebration. Only white flowers are used on the second day also. However, the design is bigger than the first day. In certain places in Kerala, the tradition is that only one ring of flowers is laid on Atham day. Subsequently a floral ring is added on each day till Uthradam. The Pookalam on Chithira day with only white flowers will look bright and elegant. Cleaning houses to welcome Mahabali is also practiced on this day

Day-3 Chothi

Traditional Pookkalam on Chothi Day. Colorful flowers are included.
Traditional Pookkalam on Chothi Day. Colorful flowers are included.

Chothi day is the third day of Onam. Chothi day adds colour to the Traditional Onam Pookkalam. In addition, the colourful flowers give contrast to the Pookalam. Onam shopping were also done on this day.

Day-4 Visakham

Traditional Pookkalam on Vishakham Day. Colorful pookkalam starts on Visakham
Traditional Pookkalam on Vishakham Day. Colorful pookkalam starts on Visakham

However, on the Visakam day more complex layers with multiple colours are added to the Pookkalam. Firstly, on this day Thrikkaakkara Appan or a symbolic representation of the Vamana of Thrikkakkara Temple is made using mud and is kept to dry in the shade. This is used on the final day on Thiruvonam.

Day-5 Anizham

Traditional Pookkalam on Anizham Day. Green leaves are also included
Traditional Pookkalam on Anizham Day. Green leaves are also included

After that, the Pookalam becomes more elaborate in colours on Anizham Day and more layers are added to the design. Green leaves are also used.6 child flower bunches are kept close to the Pookkalam depicting the day from Atham. However, on Anizham day, 5 child flower bunches are kept near the Pookalam.

Day-6 Thrikketta (Ketta)

Traditional Pookkalam on Thrikketta day. Pookkalam is made on an elevated conical platform made of Mud (Pooppada)
Traditional Pookalam on Thrikketta day. Pookkalam is made on an elevated conical platform made of Mud (Pooppada)

Till Anizham day, the Pookalam is set on the flat ground. On the day of Thrikketta a Pooppada (an elevated conical platform) is made. Instead of laying flowers on the flat ground, an elevated conical platform is made using mud. The middle part of the cone is given a 6-inch elevation. It then tapers to the ground making it a conical platform. therefore, this platform gives a 3-dimensional shape to the Pookalam. Secondly, more coloured flowers are used from Thrikketta day onwards. In addition, small flower bunches are kept on the periphery of the Pookkalam depicting the day. After that, on Thrikketta day, 6 such child Pookalam are kept on the periphery of the main Pookalam.

Another significance is the Poo Kuda (Floral Umbrellas) made using fixing whole flowers like hibiscus and Kolambi (golden Trumpet) on coconut leaf Midribs (Eerkkil) these floral umbrellas are then fixed at the centre of the Pookkalam vertically.

Day-7  Moolam

Traditional Pookkalam on Moolam Day. Vivid and colourful Pookkalam with the typical Chendu Design (Garland in periphery)
Traditional Pookkalam on Moolam Day. Vivid and colourful Pookkalam with the typical Chendu Design (Garland in periphery)

The Pookalam becomes bigger and splendid than the previous days with bigger diameter and many flowers being used. The circle in the extreme periphery can be made of multiple flowers which gives a mixed-flower-garland look for the Pookkalam. Traditionally this is called “Chendu”. In earlier times, when the Pookalam is big and the availability of flowers are limited, this option allows to use multiple varieties of flowers for the circles in periphery.

Day-8 Pooradam

Traditional Pookkalam on Pooradam Day with a bigger Chendu (garland)
Traditional Pookalam on Pooradam Day with a bigger Chendu (garland)

The eight day of Onam, Pooradam day is the first among the last three days. Pookalam rich in multiple colours are made and the Pookkuda also increase in number. As the number of Poo Kuda increase, its difficult to fix it on the soil. So in many places the flower bud of plantain, called Vaazha Chundu is used to fix the poo kuda in the centre of the Poo Kalam.

Day-9 Uthradam

Traditional Pookkalam on Uthradam day. This is the Nineth Day and is the last Pookkalam in the series. On Thiruvonam Day Pookkalam is not set. Instead, Nivedyam is Offered to the Vamana Moorthy.

This is the Nineth day since Atham day. The biggest and the most magnificent Pookalam is made on this day. Children go in teams to distant places to bring flowers of different varieties. Various experiments are also done in designs. In villages children compare Pookalams in the neighbourhood and try to make theirs the best. The Uthradam day is the last day for laying Pookkalam. Feasts is prepared and children are offered new clothes.

Day-10 Thiruvonam, the final day of Traditional Onam Pookkalam

Thiruvonam is the culmination day of the 10-day-long Onam festival. People wake up before sunrise and take a bath. No Pookkalam is made on Thiruvonam day. Instead, some rituals are prepared on the Pooppada. Poovada, a steam cooked delicacy made using rice powder and molasses is prepared to be offered to the Vamana Moothy of Thrikkakkara. Thiruvonam day is also the Avathara day of vamana Moorthy. The Vamana Moorthy, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu is welcomed at the Pooppada. Lighted lamp is Kept near the Pooppada. Instead of Pookkalam, whole Thumba plants are kept on the Pooppada. The Pooppada is decorated with rice powder paste. Above that the icons of Thrikkakkara Appan made in Mud is kept. It represents the vamana Moorthy. The Poovada is offered to the Deity.

The traditional Pookalam laying ceremony ends with this Nivedyam Ceremony. Our heritage, traditions and customs are interesting and vivid. Traditional Onam Pookkalam is no exception to that. However, the sad thing is that many people are not aware of it. For many people, Onam is all about offers, electronics sale and new expensive purchases. The real cultural traditions of our land and its nuances should not be forgotten. We all have the responsibility to transfer the real tradition of our land to the future generations.

Onam at Thrikkakkara Temple of Vamana Moorthy

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