Kolam is a daily women’s ritualistic art form created by Tamil Hindu women throughout Tamil Nadu in southeastern India. Each day before dawn, during the Brahma muhurtam (believed to be the time when Brahma and all other deities descend to the earth) and sometimes before dusk, millions of women in the town, villages and the cities of Tamil Nadu (and Pondicherry) draw Kolam on the thresholds and floors of houses, temples and businesses. In Tamil culture, the threshold is of great significance as the meeting point of the internal and the external and Kolam is one of the many manifestations of that significance.
Kolam, in its traditional context, is said to be drawn to announce auspiciousness and that all-is-well in the household while its absence implies otherwise. Drawing kolams signifies that Goddess Lakshmi is welcomed; while her sister Mudevi, who is believed to bring poverty, illness, laziness, and bad luck, is banished.
Tamil women draw the Kolam with their hands using rice flour /stone powder or other coloured ingredient held in a container–usually a plastic bowl or a traditional half-coconut shell. There are two methods of Kolam making: the dry-rice-flour method and the wet-rice-flour method.
In the dry- rice-flour method, first, a pinch of rice flour is picked by the thumb and held firmly against the forefinger. Then, the rice flour is dropped evenly by pushing the thumb lightly against the right forefinger, almost an inch above the floor. In the villages the ground for the Kolam is first swept and cleaned by sprinkling water. Then a mixture of cow-dung and water is either sprinkled or applied by hand before drawing the Kolam.
For special occasions to make the Kolam hold longer, the rice flour is made wet by adding water. A small cloth piece folded over (or a paper towel) is dipped into the liquid rice paste and placed between the thumb, the forefinger, and the middle finger and pressed until drops of wet white rice flour pours through the front end of the three fingers. The Kolam is created, almost as if the fingers were acting as an ink pen. These semi-permanent Kolam are called maaKolam. The challenge here is to ensure that the rice flour spreads evenly on the ground in a smooth, continuous, flowing manner so that the shapes appear smooth and evenly drawn.
Sometimes in a rush or due to space crunch, prepunched patterned stencils and rollers made of brass, stainless steel, aluminum, or polyvinylchloride (PVC) are used to stamp complex designs. In the contemporary time, plastic stick-on decaltype Kolam designs, sold in almost every general store or supermarket are often placed on the thresholds of modern apartments, where space is scarcer.
Designs and line types in Kolam
The designs can be divided into geometric, figurative and landscape styles, or a combination of them. The basic geometrical shapes used in Kolam include the circle, triangle, square, spiral and so on, each having its own significance. The pullis (dots), straight line, circle, triangle and square, have a symbolic value in representing the basic energies of the universe. For instance the popular six-pointed star represents the union of the male and the female, made of triangles in opposite direction. Basic geometrical shapes are combined and overlapped in increasing complex designs to represent particular forces or qualities embodied in some aspect of creation, evolution or dissolution. In complex designs large, elaborate labyrinth Kolams are built on a sequence of dots as their base( see photo gallery for reference).
Based on a regular(square /triangle/rectangle/rhombic) grid of pullis, a perfectly symmetrical design of geometrical patterns or flowers, birds, trees or divinities, gradually emerges as these dots are either joined by lines or looped. Many of the Kolam patterns are abstract, but there are also conventionalized forms of auspicious symbols, myths, and attributes, like sacred pots, vase, sacred lamp, conch, lotus flower, mirror, bowls, drums, sacred letters, snakes, books and particular gods and goddesses. Some of the contemporary inclusion in Kolam copy books include secular motifs, such as aeroplanes, sofas, chariots, dolls, toys, butterflies, elephants, Disney characters (Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Donald Duck) and even Santa Claus.
The types of line observed in the Kolam designs are: 1. Straight lines 2. Curved lines 3. Open-ended lines 4. Lines with ends closed 5. Vertical lines 6. Horizontal lines 7. Zigzag lines 8. Wavy lines 9. Short and long lines. Based on the size and Kolam designs, the artists use various lines of different thickness. It is observed that line thickness varies from thin, thick, single, double, triple or multiple lines to dotted, dashed and thick-thin lines, which are lines with different frequencies. People use single and multiple lines of drawings in Kolam designs. The importance and splendour of a particular celebration is conveyed through the number of lines used in Kolam. People use two lines on ordinary days, whereas on special days the number of lines increases.
Some of the prominent Kolam types are listed below:
- Kolam made during important festivals and religious celebrations
- Kolam on Pongal: Pongal is the harvest festival of Tamil Nadu celebrated during the month of Margali/Margazhi (the ninth month of the traditional Tamil Calender that extends from mid-December to mid-January, considered as the most auspicious). Tamilians offer thanks to the environment which helped in the harvest. Therefore, the Kolam done on this day is around chullah (stove) in the kitchen also and they make a figure of Surya, sugarcane or kalash. The figure of Surya is also made on this day symbolising the beginning of Uttarayan. Rice powder is generally used to create Kolam on this occasion.
- Kolam on Janmashtami-/Gokulashtami :On this festive occasion, a large Kolam on the entrance is made to celebrate the birth of Krishna, the eight avatar (incarnation) of Lord Vishnu. Alongside motifs of little footsteps are also made from entrance to the place of worship in the house. It denotes the footprints of Lord Bal Krishna entering the house. A large Kolam is also made in the worshipping room of the house.
- Kolam on Deepawali: Usually a big Kolam is made with rice powder along with Kaavi (brick red powder, used as a border for enclosing the Kolam, believed to prevent evil spirits from entering the house), Yellow Mud or other powdered ingredients. The most popular motif is the lamp and lotus.
- Kolam on special occasions–vrats( sacred vows) :There are also some rarely done Kolams, such as the navagraha Kolams, which are done only in front of household shrines, and only on special occasions.
- Kolam made during specific events in the family
- Kolam on Birth (Thottil Kolam): On the naming ceremony of the newborn child this Kolam is made. The paddy (rice bundle) is kept in the middle of the Kolam. Then a song is sung which prays for the good health and long life of the child.
- Kolam on Marriage (Manai /Kanya Kolam): The Kolam made on this occasion is usually large and intricate. Kolam experts in the family lay the main part and the outside portion of the Kolam which are to elongate the main part are done by the other women. Everybody is involved. A binding, Mostly of rice powder and rice paste (prepared by soaking the rice overnight then making a paste of it) is used along with Kaavi and Manjal (turmeric)
- Kolam on 13th-day ceremony of the departed soul (Kalyana kolam): A very big Kolam is made in the house on the 13th day of the ceremony of the departed soul. The grih shanti hawan (ritual wherein offerings are made to a consecrated fire) is done. Until the tithi (date) of the death ceremony arrives the next year, no Kolam is supposed to be made since it is the mourning period.
- Kolam on special days of the week and for welcoming friends, family and good spirits
- Kolam on Friday (Padi Kolam): It is specific Kolam specially made for Goddess Lakshmi. Friday is very important for Tamilians. Friday is the day for Goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of bounty and prosperity)and the Kolam is made to welcome and invite her into the house.
- Welcoming kolam (Nalvaravu Kolam): This Kolam is drawn to welcome friends, guests at home, or at some other venue to welcome them on some celebration. Elements like lotus, conch, lamp, etc are used in this Kolam.
- Everyday Kolam, made as a symbol of auspiciousness, spirituality and prosperity of family members
- Chikku/Sikku (Knot or twisted) Kolam: In this Kolam design the curved lines are made around the dot making an intricate pattern where one can not figure out where the design begins from and where it ends.
- Pulli Kolam: The Kolam is drawn after putting dots in a grid/matrix. Then as per the choice of the maker the design is made around the dots forming a pattern. A range of Kolam patterns like Kambi (line) Kolam, Neli (curve) Kolam, Kodu (tesselated) Kolam, Woda pulli (loop Kolam with hexagonally packed dots) Kolam, Ner pulli (loop Kolam with square-packed dots) can be created.