Rangoli

A tradition-rich artistic expression

 


Rangoli
Origin
Description
Regional Names
Kolam

 
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Rangoli

Rangoli is one of the most popular art forms in India. It is a form of decoration that uses finely ground white powder and colours, and is used commonly outside homes in India.

Rangoli can be wall art as well as floor art. The term rangoli is derived from words rang (colour) and aavalli ('coloured creepers' or 'row of colours').


Origin

The origin of rangoli painting is traced to a legend recorded in the Chitralakshana, the earliest Indian treatise on painting. When the son of a King's high priest died, Brahma, Lord of the universe, asked the king to paint the likeness of the boy so that Brahma could breathe life into him again. This is how, it is believed, the first painting was made.

Another popular story is that God, in one of his creative episodes, extracted the juice from one of the mango trees as paint, and drew the figure of a woman so beautiful that it put the heavenly maidens to shame.


Description

The motifs in Rangoli are usually taken from Nature - peacocks, swans, mango, flowers, creepers, etc. The colours traditionally were derived from natural dyes - from barks of trees, leaves, indigo, etc. However, today, synthetic dyes are used in a range of bright colours. The materials used for Rangoli take on either a flat appearance, when coloured powder such as rice, chili, turmeric, etc. are used, or a 3-D effect when cereals, pulses either in their natural colouring or tinted with natural dyes are used. Some artists use the 3-D effect for borders alone while others create beautiful designs using grains and beads entirely.

The designs are symbolic and common to the entire country, and can include geometrical patterns, with lines, dots, squares, circles, triangles; the swastika, lotus, trident, fish, conch shell, footprints (supposed to be of goddess Lakshmi), creepers, leaves, trees, flowers, animals and anthropomorphic figures. These motifs often are modified to fit in with the local images and rhythms. One important point is that the entire pattern must be an unbroken line, with no gaps to be left anywhere for evil spirits to enter.

Originally Rangoli was done in small patterns 2 feet square but now entire floor areas of rooms and hotel foyers are covered in intricate detailed designs. Traditionally, such floor decorations were done only on auspicious occasions or festivals. But today, any occasion is good enough weddings, birthday parties, opening ceremonies, etc. In the deep South and South West of India and Kerala, flowers are used to create floor art.

In Indian cultures, all guests and visitors occupy a very special place, and a rangoli is an expression of this warm hospitality. In particular, the Divali festival is widely celebrated with rangoli, since at this time, people visit each other's homes to exchange greetings and sweets. Rangoli also has a religious significance, enhancing the beauty of the surroundings and spreading joy and happiness all around.


Regional Names

In every region of India, Rangoli is known by different names :

  • Kerala : 'Puvidal' (Puv means flower and idal means arrangement, i.e. Rangoli by flowers)

  • Tamil Nadu : 'Kolam' (kolam - name of a specific quality of rice. Rangoli is drawn by using rice flour)

  • Andhra Pradesh : 'Muggu' (Rangoli drawn by using thick batter of soaked rice flour)

  • Karnataka : 'Rangoli' (From the powder of a special kind of a rock. Tiny dots are drawn on the floor usually in even numbers. These dots are joined with the powder in a geometrical fashion)

  • Maharashtra : 'Rangvalli' (Rangoli thick powder made from special rock is used in various colors, and the powder of burnt rice skin is used to draw rangoli in Konkan part of Maharashtra)

  • Gujarat : 'Sathiya' (Rangoli is known by this name)

  • Rajasthan : 'Mandana' (rice flour mixed with little turmeric. Rangoli is drawn on the walls)

  • Madhya Pradesh : 'ChowkPurna' (Traditional designs fitted in square with leaves and flowers)

  • Uttar Pradesh : Rangoli is known as 'Sona Rakhana'
  • Orissa : Rangoli is known as 'Ossa'
  • Almora - Garhawal : Rangoli is well popular known as 'Alpana'
  • Bengal : In Bengal it is drawn by soak rice paste and known as 'Apana'



Kolam

Kolam (in Tamil) is a decorative design drawn using rice powder by female members of the family in front of their home, especially near the threshold. A Kolam is a sort of painted prayer -- a line drawing composed of curved loops, drawn around a grid pattern of dots. They are generally symmetric. Kolams are thought to bestow prosperity to the homes. For special occasions limestone and red brick powder to contrast are also used. Though kolams are usually done with dry rice flour, for longevity, dilute rice paste or even paints are also used. Modern interpretations have accommodated chalk, and the latest "technology" in kolams are actually vinyl stickers (that defeat the original purpose).

Every morning in southern India, millions of women draw kolams on the ground with white rice powder. Through the day, the drawings get walked on, rained out, or blown around in the wind; new ones are made the next day. Every morning before sunrise, the floor is cleaned with water, the universal purifier, and the muddy floor and swept well for an even surface. The kolams are generally drawn while the surface is still damp so that it is held better. Occasionally, cow-dung is also used to wax the floors. Cow dung has antiseptic properties and hence provides a literal threshold of protection for the home. It also provides contrast with the white powder.

Decoration was not the sole purpose of a Kolam. In olden days, kolams used to be drawn in coarse rice flour, so that the ants don't have to work so hard for a meal. The rice powder is said to invite birds and other small critters to eat it, thus inviting other beings into one's home and everyday life: a daily tribute to harmonious co-existence. Not to be underestimated is the benefits for the artist to bend down each morning - it is said to help her digestive system, reproductive organs and to help overall stretching of the body. It is a sign of invitation to welcome all into the home, not the least of whom is Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of prosperity. The patterns range between geometric and mathematical line drawings around a matrix of dots to free form art work and closed shapes. Folklore has evolved to mandate that the lines must be completed so as to symbolically prevent evil spirits from entering the inside of the shapes, and thus are they prevented from entering the inside of the home. It used to be a matter of pride to be able to draw large complicated patterns without lifting the hand off the floor (or unbending to stand up). The month of "Margazhi" was eagerly awaited by young women, who would then showcase their skills by covering the entire width of the road with one big kolam! It was indeed a test of mastery, as one cannot repeat a pattern for 30 days.

When people get married, the ritual kolam patterns created for the occasion can stretch all the way down the street. Patterns are often passed on generation to generation, mother to daughter. Kolam is not so flamboyant as its other Indian contemporary, Rangoli, which is extremely colorful. However, the beauty of a kolam, bordered with blood-red "kaavi" (red brick paste) is also considered exceptional.