article is part of a book on 'Kolams' being prepared for the
Tamil Heritage Centre book collection, to be published by
the Auroville Press. A team of Aurovilians is working on this
collection in order to give a glimpse of the richness and
diversity of the Tamil culture that so gracefully accepts
Auroville in its midst.
The 'kolam' is a symbol of an open heart and an auspicious
welcoming. Its colourful, devotional presence in the villages
in the Auroville area is a well appreciated and respected
feature, and we're happy to share some of its touch with you
through this page..
From heart to hearth
Each day before
the sun rises, millions of women in south India say silent
prayers as they sprinkle their hearths with rice powder or
chalk to make kolams and invite the divine to grace their
homes. The kolam -an ancient Dravidian geometrical motif -
combines form, movement and colour to announce each new day.
In Tamil, the word kolam implies beauty, form and play; it
is a quiet ritual full of grace to make the home a sacred
Women have drawn kolams before the entrances to their homes
for centuries. Kolams may be linked to the earth, the stars
or special festivities, but they are first and foremost a
conscious offering to Mother Earth. They are prayers for prosperity,
joy, wisdom, good health, and friendship. Their pretty patterns
make villages and towns more festive, joyful, and devotional.
before daylight, a village woman prepares the ground before
the entrance of her house. After the day's initial tasks are
done, she sweeps the front porch area with a broomstick made
of coconut fronds. The sound of her broomstick striking the
earth resonates with those of other women who are also sweeping
their thresholds. Soon there is an orchestra of brooms signaling
to those still in bed that morning is coming and that it is
nearly time to rise.
After sweeping, she prepares her earth canvas by first coating
the ground with a mixture of water and cow dung, which has
been chosen for its purification value. Then, with deft and
nimble fingers, she first lays out a regular pattern of dots
with white powder. By letting the powder run smoothly between
thumb and forefingers as if she were pouring dry water, she
composes a continuous line, which turns and twists around
the initial dots. Some women can draw up to four lines at
once, as the powder slips through poised fingers. Sometimes
a woman knows a pattern by heart, and sometimes she will create
a pattern that is entirely new and unique. Each type of design
has a name and a symbolic meaning. On festival days, kolams
are particularly large and magnificent.
Crossing a threshold,
or vayipati in Tamil, is a conscious event. Kolams link the
private realm to communal life, hospitality to guests and
passersby, the personal and familial to the divine. In this
way, more than a transient art, they are a conscious science.
They are a subtle bridge between the intimate home and the
vast and challenging world beyond. In ancient times, wandering
sadhus would enter a village with kolams gracing the thresholds
of village homes and know something of the lives of the inhabitants
of each house. Abundance, hardship, aspirations were written
on the earth with a few lines and dots or the absence of them.
Until recent times,
kolams were most often drawn with coarse rice flower, thus
serving as a conscious offering to nature's creatures. Rice
flower is seen as an offering to Lakshmi, the goddess of rice.
In south India, where wealth is measured in terms of rice
fields, Lakshmi plays an essential caretaker role to assure
the family's continued existence and survival. The goddess
has the power to attract wealth and prosperity and to prevent
poverty from entering the home.
where rice is expensive, kolams are made of powered limestone,
red soil or chalk. In some regions salt, turmeric powder,
flowers, rocks, stones and sawdust are also used. Some women
cannot resist the more colourful store-bought artificial chalk
power tints and the technicolour world of magentas, emerald
greens, turquoise and cobalt blues. Plastic sticker kolams
are also used and herald city life and a different set of
priorities for a woman's time..
Myriad kolam designs
exist, - to mention just a few:
welcoming kolams, say that a home is open to visitors
and friends. They are especially used to welcome wedding
guests for the most important event of a woman's life.
or cradle kolams, are created for the naming ceremony
of a newborn child. The cradle kolam is drawn and paddy
is spread in the middle of the kolam. A song is then sung
praying for the health and long life of the child.
originally signified water and were often associated with
the abode of gods. Today they represent a recipient for
the favourite goddess Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, to manifest
her abundance and bring health and prosperity to the family.
originally evoked the spiraling of life forces and the
aspiration for an evolution in consciousness. Today they
are often used to protect the house from thieves, evil
spirits or unwanted visitors, as is the spiral in the
Sumerian and Egyptian cultures. These kolams are a kind
of curse catcher, or emotions screen to keep the household
pure and serene. Negative spirits are not necessarily
wandering outside the house. They may be seen as ill feelings
in ourselves. Thus, there is a call to wake up and be
purified in mind and thought.
are known by different names in different parts of India.
Hase in Karnataka, muggulu in Andrapradesh, chowkpurna in
Uttar Pradesh, alpana in Bengal and Assam, and rangoli in
Gujarat and Maharashtra.