Onams of ‘salt carpet’

One more Onam passed by. As usual the television was filled with stories of nostalgia – celebrities talking about Onam of their childhood and how much it has changed over the years. Stories of plucking flowers and playing on the swing etc. In my childhood, we seldom had a traditional floral carpet for Onam. We did not have any flowering plants in the yard and we could not afford to buy flowers from the Onam market. So what we did instead was buying crystal salt and packets of color powder that came cheap.

The first and probably the best artist of the family was my second brother Varghese who is not in this world anymore. It was him who started putting floral carpets for Onam and cribs for Christmas. We all would wake up early in the morning of Onam day to help mixing the color powder with crystal salt while my brother would be drawing the structure on the yard with a string of thread and chalk. We would occasionally put up a real pookkaLam (floral carpet) with Mosantha flowers which were found aplenty in one of the neighborhoods. Ladies of the family would get busy in the kitchen by the time we finished the pookkaLam. Next thing to do would be eating the boiled banana. After that we would head to the neighboring houses to watch TV. There were not many new movies on TV in those days and there was only one Malayalam channel by Doordarshan, but one of the neighbors would play VHS tapes of Malayalam movies that they brought from the gulf. The ‘celebrations’ would mostly end with sadya at noon, though we did not have more than 4 items for sadya.

The ‘salt carpet’ was also a regular in my school, S N Boys High School in Kanimangalam because most of the students there came from ordinary or poor lower middle class families. The kaLam there was much bigger than what we put in our houses. It filled an entire class room bordered with the wooden benches. One kaLam design I remember is of Hanuman bringing the sanjeevani and it was the largest kaLam from my memories. The salt carpet has a disadvantage though. A salt carpet is easier to put the design together than a floral carpet but it would begin to melt after sometime and the colors would merge with each other, But it was a work of art.

Times have changed and I don’t see the salt carpets anymore. The flower market now thrives in the Onam days and there are ‘flower kits’ which is a mixture of all flowers and it costs much less than what you buy in kilos, so nobody prefers the salt carpet anymore I guess. Crystal salt also seems to be a rare thing these days as people have moved on to powder salt. I wish I had a camera or found someone who had one to take a photo of the salt carpet,  which I would call the poor man’s pookkaLam.

Happy Onam! And an Onam song

So here comes another Onam! A time for all Malayalees to come home and celebrate the togetherness with family and friends, the colorful Pookkalams and yummy Sadyas. Here I wish all my Malayalee friends a happy and prosperous Onam. Let us not forget the inspiring myth behind this festival – of everyone in the place being happy and prosperous, of everyone being just and fair to each other.


I chose this song because of the Onam spirit that this song has, right from the beginning of the song with “aaRppO… EeRRO!”, poo viLi and the rhythm of a boat song. I should thank my friend Sujay who first brought this song to my notice when we had to choose a song for the Onam competition in our office and then to Vishnu for providing me the track. The track is made of some loops and gets faster at places and I had to make do with it.

Album: Poothaalam
Composer: Kannan
Lyricist: Chitoor Gopi
Singer: M G Sreekumar

Download MP3 of “Vannallo Ponnonam” (4.25 MB)

Memories of Onam

Yet another Onam has passed by. Onam is nostalgic to every Malayali, but it is not exactly what has been described in the Onam specials of magazines and newspapers. Not at least for me. I never heard a “pooviLi” in my childhood. I haven’t gone collecting flowers from the neighborhood either (though my elder brothers did). I have never seen any woman singing and dancing to the tunes of “thiruvaathirakkaLi“. But I remember waking up early in the morning of the thiruvONam day, to put a “pookkaLam” (floral carpet), which would have more leafs than flowers.

As time passed by and collecting flowers became very difficult and the price of the flowers in the market shot up, we had to resort to pookkaLams made with salt. We would mix salt with different color powders and put the “salt-kaLam” in the courtyard. My second brother, who left this world 12 years ago and was an excellent artist, would draw the kalam and we younger ones helped in mixing the color powder with the salt. To our pride, people came to see this salt-kaLam than the floral carpets in the rich houses of the neighborhood, because of the artistic mastery of my brother.

The kaLam would be finished by 7 or 8 in the morning and then came our time for bath and then playing music. The wait for Sadya came next. I also have memories of going to the neighbor’s house to watch movies. The TV channels were not so plenty like in these days and there were not many programs on Doordarshan. But the neighbor used to play video cassettes of popular Malayalam movies and we children used to go watch them. So Onam was about watching movies too.

What I like the best about Onam? It is neither the pookkaLam, nor the Sadya. It is the time when the family comes together. My sisters, their kids and my brother came home for Onam and they are staying in for a couple of days. We talk, make fun of each other and the chat sessions go as longer as the next day morning. It is this togetherness that I love about Onam. And I hope and pray that this togetherness lasts forever.

Hope you all had/having a wonderful time during this year’s Onam.

Happy Onam!


Onam, though considered traditionally as a harvest festival, is a celebration of togetherness. Malayalis all over the world come together or join their families to spend Onam time. To my parents’ generation Onam was not a celebration of togetherness because not many left their home for jobs or other needs. So they were all together, but what made their Onam different was the prosperity that Onam (or the Malayalam month Chingam) brought in their lives. A good harvest in the paddy fields, buying new clothes (everybody waits for the Onam time to bring new clothes), a perfect Onam meal (Sadya) etc made their Onams special.

To my generation, Onam is a celebration of consumerism. People just customarily buy new clothes for Onam, even if they have bought a pile of new clothes just a couple of days back. Onam is a time for product offers and discounts, so the market is active. But even in this age, one thing that you can still see is that people want to be with their families during the Onam time. Thus Onam becomes a celebration of togetherness.

Here is wishing everyone a Happy and Prosperous Onam!!