link rel = "image_src” href=”preview-image-here.jpg” / expr:content='data:blog.metaDescription' link rel = "image_src” href=”preview-image-here.jpg” / expr:content='data:blog.metaDescription' Sukanya's musings: ART OF KOLAM

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Tuesday, December 23, 2003


As we enter a new era, with the pressures of work and commitments and responsibilities towards work and family we are forgetting our glorious tradition and rich culture. The ma-kolam and arishi podi (rice powder) kolam were first replaced by readymade kolam powders and then have now been replaced with sticker decal kolams and also time saving devices such as rollers and moulds, all these indicate the modernization and evolution of the kolam, these devices indicate our desperate bid to continue with the tradition, without having to make the effort of drawing intricate designs and patterns outside the house. The Kolam marks the virtues of the Hindu woman who can maintain a morning tradition even while getting her family and sometimes herself ready for work and school. Unfortunately the practice of drawing the kolam is becoming nearly extinct in metropolitan cities where more and more are living in high-rise apartment buildings and among our people who have settled abroad.
The Kolam Tradition
Kolam refers to drawing intricate designs and patterns on the floor in front of houses and in front of deities in puja rooms. Traditionally, the women of the household would take their morning bath and then sprinkle the threshold with water or diluted solutions of cow-dung cake, this mixture was used to work as an antiseptic to kill any unhealthy impurities in the area and would also allow the drawing to sit more firmly and strikingly on the ground by giving it a darker background, the finely ground rice flour would then be taken into their hands and deftly released in a moving stream that hits the ground and forms the lines of the drawing. This ritual was done to sanctify the threshold and invite the blessings of Gods and bring in positive energy into the house. It is an age old cultural tradition of south indian families going back to many many generations. Young girls learn most of the artwork from their mothers, grandmas, aunties, other female relatives or friends.

On special Occasions like festivals or when there is a family function, the women would draw huge Ma-kolams.
Ma-kolam : refers to the paste made from rice. Rice is soaked overnight and then ground into a fine paste.
Tip!!!! : My mom used to add a little ulundhu (udad dal) to the rice so that the maa-kolam will look more striking and sit firmly on the ground like a painting.

Color powders add an additional charm. In the past charcoal powder, turmeric powder, red soil and powdered brick were used for colors, that’s not the case any more."

The kolam can also be decorated with different flowers like the kolams done in kerala for Onam.

History of Kolam
The religious meaning and function of these drawings is to honor Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity, and to invite her blessings into the home. The designs are also believed to sanctify and protect the dangerous and small space of the threshold. This space (the threshold) is believed to be dangerous because it separates the auspicious, pure, protected, and safe world of the home from the inauspicious, impure, unprotected, and dangerous world of the outside. If the threshold is not constantly sanctified by the kolam inauspicious forces may trespass into the home and eventually disrupt the health and well being of the family. Thus this function of warding off inauspicious forces at the threshold by invoking the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi and sanctifying the space is the most commonly stated meaning attributed to the domestic ritual drawings.
Another legend of the kolam is, when the son of a King's high priest died, Lord Brahma, asked the king to paint the image of the boy so that He may revitalize him. And thus started the tradition of drawing the kolam, this was mentioned in the earliest Indian treatise on painting Chitralakshana.
Kolam has been developed as an art form - it is not uncommon to see very intricate street paintings (rangolis) with religious themes. In Bombay especially you see some very artistic drawings of Gods made by street painters on the street.

Significance of Kolam
Kolam is not an art that needs formal training. It is enough if one can draw and has imagination. Kolam skills are considered a mark of grace, dexterity, discipline and concentration. It also imbibes the value of patience in the person. Drawing the kolam is an important part of our rich culture and landscape.
The most common kolam designs start with dots which are connected to form lines and other geometrical shapes such as swastika, aum, stars, squares, circles, triangles etc. These geometrical shapes must be formed in continuous string of lines. Some of the drawing start with a certain number pattern of points (the numbers are such that they bring prosperity for eg. 3, 5 7 etc. usually odd numbers.) something like numerology where certain numbers hold significance, these numbers are followed by curly lines going around these points. Many of these are completed with a single line going in an elegant but zig-zag away around the entire set of points.

During Diwali and other festivals much more intricate shapes and designs are implemented, the kolams are even bigger in size.

The Tamil month of "Margazhi" (Dec- Jan) is particularly important when fairly large size Kolams are put in front of the houses, with additional decoration of Kolams with yellow flowers of pumpkin. Putting Kolams in front of the houses is very much in practice in south Indian villages.

The beauty of this practice is not its aesthetic appeal - but also its usefulness to even the smallest creation. The patterns are drawn in rice flour so ants, insects and birds can feed on them.
Cow dung is mixed with the water that is sprinkled on the ground prior to the kolam application not only for giving a darker background but also for its disinfectant nature.
Drawing a kolam early in the morning helps inhale fresh air. Drawing a big kolam can take at least a couple of hours, which is a good exercise.

Recent findings on Kolam
Kolams are also expressive of mathematical ideas. In the last few decades, kolam figures have attracted the attention of computer scientists interested in describing images with picture languages. Different picture languages have been developed to describe different kolam families.

Kolam is also known as, Chowkpurana in Northern India, Madana in Rajasthan, Aripana in Bihar, Alpana in Bengal, it is the ancient Hindu religious floor art.

More recently, kolam drawings have moved into cyber space where new designs are created and sent by electronic mail to female relatives or friends.

Can you imagine!!!!, drawing the kolam had so many gains. Not only was it done for ones own benefits like getting fresh air, exercise, developing the qualities of patience, dexterity, grace, concentration and discipline but also for disinfecting the courtyard of the house so as to create a healthy atmosphere and even for feeding smaller insects.

The Hindu woman is torn apart between the worlds of tradition and modernity. In today’s challenging world the woman often has to manage her home and work, with pressures and demands on both sides, if she makes the time to draw kolam in front of the deities in the pooja room or at the threshold of the house, if not in the morning atleast in the evenings, it will not only help her to de-stress, but also give her a moment to herself. It is a creative art, which will develop her mental skills and at the same time serve the dual purpose of saving and retaining our age old tradition and rich culture from dying.

1 comment:

  1. Response to Sukanya's article on Kolam


    My congradulations to you for an excellant article. I have heard somewhere that Kolam used to be drawn exclusively with rice flour in earlier times so that even ants are fed.Another very important aspect is that in a tradition bound society , this gave fitting gateway to the artistic aspirations to the omen of the family. With best wishes.

    We are glad to read your posting on this col about KOLAM. It is really informaive, educational and valuable to all Indian women settled in foreign countries, who have lost the traditional values of Kolam, importance and necessity to decorate the front yard and Tulasi Madam with nice Kolam.

    Really great. When we were in middle east countries, we used to put Kolam in front of the entrance door of our apartment. The neighbours were Palestinians, Somalis, Indians, Pakistanis, Lebanese etc. They were so happy to see the Kolam and they were careful while walking near the Kolam, for they believe in such decorations in front of their homes.

    We used to put Kolam for dipavali, kaartikai, pongal, and all other important functions They like it. Even we used to conduct bhajans at our apartment early morning say 4.30 till 7 am for Maargazhi month
    Many friends of ours participated in the function. They used to fear for our applying Kolam in front of the apartments for being in an arabic country we are not alloweed to do such things. We normally discuss with arabic friends (Lebanese) and thery were so happy about it. For navaratri gujarati Garba dance they also participate along with us

    It is we Indians only do not want to maintain our traditional values and would like to imitate the western countries for false ego and fear thinking in advance that the others do not want to understand our religion or faith or traditional values.

    When we travelled to USA/Europe, we noticed that ISKCON has done a wonderful performance by teaching the westerners sanskrit, Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, carnatic music and various Indian songs. Now inCanada we have russian, poland, canadian, american, Bosnian and other nationalities who visits our house as well as temple for Indian Prasadam, They respectfully take these prasadams without WASTING EVEN ONE GRAIN. They respect these prasadams and pray before eating as per our scriptural instructions.

    Basically what we need at this hour is to help the Indians settled in abroad to understand and take up the traditional values and revive them and educate their children instead of IMITATING THE WESTERNERS.

    Your KOLAM lesson Must bring in more westerners to follow the Indian traditional values - by the way Onam festival is well received by westernere like Attha Poov -

    We sincerely appreciate your efforts to post the nice topic on this web site

    God Bless you to give more ideas to post many other good topics for the Indian Janata settled down in foreign lands as also to native Indians in India.


    I refer to the essay on "Kolam" by Smt Sukanya. It is educative and interesting. I wish to add, what I have read in Mantra, Yantra, Tantra texts:
    A Kolam in its simplest form is a SHADKONAM; which is the intersection of two triangles making a six - cornered geometrical pattern. This is the basic YANTRAM
    for Sree, Sudarsanam etc. The Yantram comprises 1. Jeevan 2. Pranan 3. Sakthi 4. Netram 5. Srothram 6. Yantra Gayatri 7. Manra Gayatri 8.Prana Prathishta
    9. Bhoota Beejam 10. Dikpaala Beejam; these ten constituents make a Yantram.
    The Shadkonam, Dalam, Vritham, Bhoopuram. The number and type varies for different Yantrams. The Mantram is written in the inner space as specified.The main
    purpose of any Yantram is - to prevent obstacles (Vighnas), to be relieved of Badhas, to achieve a specific task, for general wellbeing and wealth.
    The Yantra can be worn on the body, or permanently fixed inside the earth (specific place in the house) Prathishta. Normally, the front yard is the main entry into the household.You put a fence at the entrance.
    In olden days, Rishipatnis had the responsibility of securing the safety of the hermitage; hence they used protective Yantras in the form of geometric patterns
    representative of powerful Mantras. This tradition is being ritually observed. You will see two significant aspects. This is the job of the lady of the house. She must
    have taken her bath; the place where the Yantra is marked needs Sthala Sudhi; this is done with Cowdung.
    Thus, over long periods of time , people have modified this ritual and made this artistic. Any Mantravadi of Kerala would know this.
    Hope this information will be of inteest. Sincerely,

    Nice piece of Information.But I think u missed something. Could u please provide some good collection of Kolam art works(with steps how to draw), so that the people like me can improve our skills.

    Hi! I am Latha from Bangalore. I am writing to you from my husband's id.

    I must say an Excellent piece of write up on Kolam. I really enjoyed reading it!!! Ofcourse some of the points were all heard and said somewhere, but here it was all there so explicitly explained and in such a wonderful manner.

    Are you also a resident of Mumbai? I am also a keen follower of this group and I have observed that most of the readers and contributors are from Mumbai hence the question.

    Hope to be in touch.



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