Kolam (Rangoli) is a wonderful art that merges creativity, spirituality, mathematics and science together. Kolam, in its traditional context, is said to be drawn using rice powder to announce auspiciousness and that all-is-well in the household.

Apart from its traditional resonance, many more layered meanings, stories, and beliefs are credited to this creative art when viewed through multiple lenses.

Let’s check out a few of them here.

  • One of the benefits of Kolam is to provide food to ants, insects, and small birds like sparrows, since the designs are made with the help of rice flour which acts as a source of food.
  • There is also the aspect of impermanence that each day the kolam of the previous day is cleaned away and a new one takes its place akin to the belief that Hindus have about the impermanence of the human body.
  • Folklore has it that these closed patterns prevent evil forces from entering the homes.
  • These patterns also have a symbolic value in representing the basic energies of the universe.
  • Some also say that the dots in the kolam represent the male and the lines denote the female.
  • Drawing a kolam involves 6 sets of mathematical skills — counting, identifying, measuring, designing, experimenting and explaining. To make a perfect kolam, one needs to keep a count of the dots, the vertices, arcs, and lines while forming those beautiful geometric patterns.

Types of Kolam:

  • Nalvaravu Kolam/ Welcoming kolam: This kolam uses the lotus (which is a sacred symbol) on the fringe ends along with popular elements such as the conch (which has its genesis in water) and the lamp (which is dispeller of the darkness and propagates the belief of ASATOMA SADGAMAYA). This kolam is bound by the red coloured kaavi.
  • Thottil Kolam, or cradle kolam: This is created for the naming ceremony of a new-born child. Paddy is spread in the middle of the kolam, and a song is then sung praying for the health and long life of the child.
  • Hridaya Kamalam kolam: On Fridays and auspicious occasions, the `Hridaya Kamalam` (lotus of the heart) and the `Sri Chakram` (the auspicious circle) are drawn in the kolams to ensure success and wealth.
  • Manai Kolam/ Padi Kolam: This kolam is drawn in different areas in a wedding and at other auspicious events held at the homes and temples. The `manai` is a wooden plank used for seating individuals, especially the couple, and the priest who is performing the marriage. The manai kolam is created with a central design and decorated with parallel lines at both edges to indicate its sacredness.
  • Line kolam or Kambi kolam: Using the basic element – the line or kambi , geometrical patterns are created .
  • Pulli Kolam: Pulli (in Tamil it means dots) are arranged in a specific sequence, and these are connected to make pictorial designs such as flowers, birds, butterflies and animals.

  • Chikku/Sikku Kolam: A curved line moves around the dots to form a design. These patterns are very mesmerising when people see them, as they cannot find the starting or the end point of the kolam!

The next type of Kolam is the hero of the hour, The Pookolam/flowerkolam.

  • Pookolam/flowerkolam is an intricate and colourful arrangement of flowers created on the floor at the entrance or veranda of a home.

‘Poo’ meaning flower and ‘kolam’ means sketches on the ground. It is considered auspicious to decorate a home with a pookolam (also known as ‘Aththa-Poo’) during the ten-day festival of Onam.

The making of a pookolam involves creating a circular shaped and multi-tiered colourful arrangement of flowers, petals and leaves. The diameter of a pookolam normally ranges from four to five meters. Generally, the pookalam is made in ten rings, each representing a ‘God’.

The use of powder colours, desiccated coconut or artificial flowers is prohibited.

The making of a Pookolam is indeed a colourful and joyous event. The occasion also generates a feeling of togetherness and goodwill amongst the people.

This is possible only by team effort, dedication, creativity and technique and along with the huge quantities of flowers.

Changing Trends:

In the earlier times, people used to make efforts to collect flowers for creating a pookolam. Children used to get up early in the morning and gather flowers in their small ‘Pookuda’ (basket) from village gardens.

This trend has changed currently; People use the option of buying flowers from the market to suit the shape and colour of their choice.

People who have interest in gardening grow a majority of flowers and use the same for their design. There is an absolute pleasure when you make a pookolam with your own garden produce.

Pookolam is no longer limited to the festive occasion of Onam – it is being adopted to grace venues, public places for celebratory occasions with creative and innovative twists.

The pookolam not only adds flavour to the festive spirit, it also gives a positive effect to the environment. The colours and fragrance make everyone feel welcomed.

Pookolam competitions are organised by different societies and groups to celebrate various festivities. They have become extremely popular and witness huge public participation. Also, a large number of people visit such venues to have a look at the innovative and meticulously created floral art. It is only through such efforts that this art continues to be alive in the urban regions.

Here is the list of flowers that grace the Pookolams:

  • Shankupushpam Or Butterfly Pea (Clitoria ternatea)
    A combination of blue colour with yellow, as its core, makes Shankupushpam one of the most prominent flowers for creating the pookolam.
  • Jamanthi Or Marigold (Tagetes sp) or Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum sp)
    With a variety of colours namely yellow, white, red, and orange the Jamanthi gives a charismatic look for the Pookolam.
  • Thumba Or Ceylon Slitwort (Leucas zeylanica)
    Thumba, the small white flower, is an integral part of Onam Pookalam. Some people make magnificent Pookolam with only Thumba flowers to mark the start of Onam festival.
  • Tulasi (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
    Tulasi is unavoidable when you make Pookolam. The green colour makes the floral Rangoli more colourful, and the fragrance makes the premises serene.
  • Chethi Or Flame of The Woods (Ixora coccinea)
    Chethi, with its red colour, makes the Pookolam appear vibrant and stunning. It is one of the flowers for the floral Rangoli that is easily available, which makes the whole rings look very attractive.
  • Chemparathy Or Hibiscus or Shoe Flower (Hibiscus syriacus)
    Like Chethi, Chemparathy with its dark red colour makes the Pookolam look dazzling. It’s a very common flower that is used by the people of south India for various purposes.
  • Mandaram is white in colour with big petals and the fragrance of this flower gives a fresh ambience to the surrounding.
  • Kongini Or Lantana (Bauhinia acuminate)
    Kongini flowers come in a variety of colours like red, orange, blue, yellow and white. They are small in size and adds so much beauty to the Pookolam.
  • Hanuman Kereedam Or Red Pagoda Flower (Clerodendrum paniculatum)
    This comes in orange and red colours, which make the Pookolam appear highly attractive.
  • Mukkuthi (Tridax procumbens)
    The dark yellow colour of the Mukkuthi makes the floral Rangoli look more vibrant.

Making Pookolam, be it for any occasion is a beautiful art that creates positive vibes.

Let us all enjoy this lovely combination of art and gardening and celebrate Mother Nature.

About the Author:

Suganya Narayanan is from Singapore, a former IT professional, a young learner educator and a happy mother. She is passionate about food and kolams.She enjoys her for cooking through her small food business providing home cooked food, readymade powders, sweets and savouries. When it comes to kolam, it gets even more special as she do it along with my better half. Reliving and enjoying our old traditions through our kolams. Their Facebook page is Mr and Mrs Kolam.


Posted by Adriane Coelho