Pookalam – a colourful arrangement of flowers on the floor – is a traditional practise during the harvest festival of Onam in Kerala, India. It celebrates the annual return of the legendary Mahabali – the most benevolent and beloved of Kings. To mark the periodic arrival of Mahabali, on the 150th year of the creation of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements by Mendeleev, Regional Science Centre & Planetarium (Calicut, Kerala) presented a Periodic Pookalam to its visitors during this week’s Onam celebrations.
Adding to the conventional compulsion of employing flowers to communicate messages, the entire creation also relied on salts this time. Taming the virulence of sodium and chlorine in innocuous packets of white table-salt and contrasting it against the inky darkness of charcoal, the silhouette of Mendeleev was traced. The exuberance of transition metal complexes were celebrated in the violets of permanganate, lavenders of vanadium, blues of nickel, greens and yellows of chromium, oranges of dichromate, reds of manganese and pinks of cobalt. These were used to classify the 118 known elements into the Periodic Table halo, as Mendeleev had taught us. Encompassing the exposition was a rich border of flowers and leaves, because – why not! These were added aesthetically by onlookers, curious to have a go at the radical Pookalam!
This Periodic Pookalam highlights the Dark Lord of the elements, who was particularly instrumental in our understanding of hydrocarbons and their abiogenic origins. It also showcases the vibrant matrix of elements which continue to teach us the inner workings of Chemistry – right to this day. As any good Pookalam worth its ‘salt’, the Periodic Pookalam captivates the uninitiated while enticing the inquisitive to delve deep within its layers and decipher the messages from Mendeleev – the Mahabali of Modern Chemistry.