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Adivasi Kolam: The articulating art form from the South

Updated: Jul 15, 2022

India is a land of colors and vividity.

Each festival calls for celebration and colors, and one such exhibition of colors most widely seen throughout is rangoli.

While these rangolis take different forms at different places, down south at the feet of the country it is known as Kolam.

Kolam, also known as Muggu or Tharai Alangaram

Kolam, also known as Muggu or Tharai Alangaram, is a type of traditional embellishing art that is drawn with rice flour following age-old traditions.

It is also drawn using white stone powder, chalk, or chalk powder, and is frequently accompanied by natural or synthetic color powders.

A kolam is a geometric line drawing made up of straight lines, curves, and loops that are arranged in a grid pattern of dots.

The kolam is generally done by women because it is considered the lady's job to manage her household.

In India, girls as young as six years old are taught how to make kolams.

 pulli kolam, often known as the dotted kolam,

The pulli kolam, often known as the dotted kolam, is the most common form of kolam.

Rice flour dots are put in a grid-like framework and then connected to produce symmetrical forms or regular polygons.

The kolam artist places a high value on symmetry because it represents global equilibrium or the Hindu element of Shiva-Shakti.

Traditionally, it is painted at the entrance to a home and can be modest or big, however, larger patterns have been seen in public places.

As a tribute to Mother Earth and a gift to Goddess Lakshmi, millions of Tamil women paint elaborate, geometric, kolam at the doorways of their houses, shops, as well as sacred trees and Hindu temples.

beautiful Adivasi kolam design being drawn by Tamil woman

A kolam is a Tamil term that implies "beauty, shape, play, disguise, or ritual design," and it is based on the Hindu idea that householders have a karmic obligation to "feed a thousand souls."

By making the kolam out of rice flour, a woman offers food for birds, rodents, ants, and other small animals, beginning each day with a "ritual of generosity" that benefits both the family and the larger community.

Kolams, intended to be a transient art form, are made each morning with a meticulous fusion of devotion, mathematical precision, artistic talent, and spontaneity.

They are supposed to be drawn during two critical periods of transition: at the start of the morning, welcoming the sunrise, and at the gloaming of twilight, bidding farewell to the lowering sun.

These paintings are thought to have originated some 5,000 years ago, during the pre-Aryan period.

The kolam has two purposes: religious and decorative.

Various designs were traditionally painted on the floor to feed insects, with the design made of edible grains and the colors derived from vegetable coloring. This charitable deed is encouraged in Hindu texts.

Tamil woman concentrating silently drawing Adivasi Kolam design

The kolam is also used to welcome Lakshmi, the Goddess of Prosperity, into the home and to ward off evil spirits.

Its secondary function is to increase the aesthetic value of the home.

Tamil women stooping to draw Adivasi Kolam to signify humility

To draw the kolam, the lady must stoop at the waist and knees, stretching her hands, legs, and upper body out.

This extends her muscles and joints, which is especially important given that the kolam is generally painted at daybreak.

In philosophy, the bending of the body represents humility.

Spiritually, the artist must focus silently on her creation, as though meditating.

There are two broad choices of patterns in which the kolams are designed– called pulli/shuzhi kolam (where dots are laid out in a grid and lines/curves are drawn either connecting the dots or flowing in the spaces around and betwixt the dots) or a padi/katta kolam (where a geometric design is drawn without a grid of dots; using lines, curves and other motifs).

They can be drawn using a variety of natural motifs such as the lotus or other flowers, leaves of the banana or mango, fruits or vegetables such as the bitter gourd or cluster bean, birds such as the swan, duck or peacock, butterflies, and so on.

Tamil women drawing a variety of Adivasi Kolam designs

Kolams have even piqued the interest of mathematicians and computer scientists, who have sought to use them to advance their research into array grammars and image languages.

Marcia Ascher's study was the first to bring them to the western world as a kind of ethnomathematics (the confluence of mathematical ideas and culture).

ethnomathematics (the confluence of mathematical ideas and culture).

The ritual cum artwork, kolam, has been renowned not only across the women who create them but also to every curious soul who has the pleasure of watching these paintings as a practice that grounds them in the immediacy of life.

Author: Akash R. Ekka

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