Once there was an exhibition in my school, and I was supposed to talk about kolam. My teachers gave me a vague idea and left me on my own to talk something on that topic. There were numerous other ‘culture and heritage’ related monuments and artworks from India on display at the exhibition that mine occupied a very small space. So, I felt like a needle in a haystack, completely invisible near big displays.
The chief guest of the exhibition was the popular danseuse, Dr Padma Subrahmanyam. She got very excited about my topic and asked me to narrate my part. When I gave my inadequate description, she smiled and said, note down what I say on kolam and change your narration.
She went on to say, putting kolam was an age-old tradition in South India, especially in Tamil Nadu. Before putting the kolam, the entrance of the house would be washed with cow-dung and water. Cow dung is a natural disinfectant and it protects one’s house from harmful germs. Then, beautiful designs and patterns (kolam) were drawn with rice flour which would, in turn, feed ants. She added that it is imbibed in our Hindu dharma to feed animals, even small ants and insects.
She further added that the kolam protects one’s house from bad spirits. Reasoning that the white flour in kolam represents lord Brahma, the green base from cow dung represents lord Vishnu and red borders called semman represent lord Shiva. Hence as a symbol, the kolam safeguards one’s house from bad spirits.
Having learnt a lesson on kolam and also the ill effects of inadequate preparation, let me continue this blog by telling the other benefits of putting kolam and also how women feel about putting them.
As I had mentioned in my previous post ‘The Auspicious Margazhi’ that a 9th century Tamil poet Aandaal mentioned kolam in her poems, one can get an idea as to how old the tradition is.
Women throng the roads especially during Margazhi and Pongal putting huge, colourful kolams because it is a form of expression for them. In my younger days, I don’t remember being in a house that did not have a kolam book.
Kolam tradition in other parts of India
The tradition of putting kolam is even practiced in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. In Kerala, women put kolam using flowers. In North India Rangoli (kolam with colours) is famous. People decorate their houses with rangoli during Diwali and Durga pooja. Whatever slight differences Indians have in the format of kolam, it can be concluded that the art of putting kolam is prevalent throughout India.
I grew up watching my mother put kolam every morning, so kolam came naturally to me. My native is Pollachi. We lived in an independent house there with a separate entrance. Every evening we used to set the ground with cow dung and water, clean the surface, remove twigs and stones and keep it kolam ready for the morning.
I remember putting kolam when I was 6 or 7 years old. Later my passion slowly grew and I started experimenting more. My designs became bigger and complicated and I set new difficulty levels for myself. In college, I participated in many competitions and had won a few. During those competitions, I started experimenting with painting on the floor using rice flour.
Kolam is not just about the design. It is an expression of emotions. It is like my blog to express my creativity. Many complicated designs could go wrong if you miss a single dot. It requires great focus, and that helps your mind a great deal. Also, the angles or the curves should be proportionate on either side of a kolam. it is a skill, more than an art.
It exercises both your mind and body. If I don’t put a kolam on a particular day, I would feel that I missed something. On a philosophical level, putting a kolam help us (women) to stay grounded. If you put a kolam, you know that its life is going to be for just a day, it prepares us to deal with losses in life, meaning nothing is permanent.
There is a WhatsApp group where I and my friends share pics of the kolams we put every day. We motivate and support each other this way to put kolams daily.
Manjula is an IT professional and has a busy life with two children. She still makes it a point to wake up early and put nice beautiful kolam every day.
My childhood neighbour Aishwarya is my kolam buddy. We lived in opposite houses in my native Coimbatore and it was our duty to put kolams at our entrances every day. We loved putting kolams so much that we never thought of it as a duty.
I did my schooling in Chinmaya Vidyalaya. There, we (girls) used to put kolam in front of our classrooms as well. Our principal after observing this started announcing prizes for best kolam every week.
During Margazhi Month, I and my friends used to prepare a month in advance to put interesting kolams, not just in our entrance, but wherever we found an empty space around the house.
Our neighbours used to travel in groups to look at our kolams. They used to conduct kolam competitions in our locality during Pongal to encourage young girls like us. The prize would be very simple in terms of value, but the encouragement and happiness it gave us were immense.
Even today, during Margazhi, I enjoy the routine of putting kolam. Now I live in an apartment where the space in front of my house is less, still, I don’t stop myself from utilizing the entire space. It is natural to have a stiff back after waking up from bed. Putting kolam relieves me of the rigidity and helps me continue with my day-to-day task easily.
Sri Vidya is a spirited homemaker and lives in Chennai with her family. She is very passionate about kolams and readily agreed to the interview. It is to be mentioned that she participated in the Kolam competition conducted by Dinamalar daily last week in Chennai. She even took her two sons braving the Margazhi weather to the competition. Such is her interest in kolams.