Wow, I’m so excited to learn more about this tradition called Kolam. I recently came across it as I was trying to research different local art techniques used in Chennai and the state of Tamil Nadu. Kolams are really rich in symbolism and folklore, however it also shows how art is virtually inseparable from daily life. It kind of reminds me how we should all take time to see the art of living so that we blur the lines between what is life and art.
Here’s what I know so far. Kolams are made by using some kind of ground powder. Sometimes it’s natural, like rice or rock, but others are synthetic manmade color powders. The drawings consist of geometrical designs that use grid patterns and dots. However, they also are composed of curved loops. Some are even free form! A lot of the patterns represent elements from nature (birds, flowers, sun, moon) and others are zodiac symbols. These drawings are placed by hand outside a person’s home, usually by the woman of the house. The reason they do this is because it’s supposed to bring prosperity. During special events, holidays, and other occasions Kolams may be more elaborate, larger, and can be drawn using colors.
You may thing it’s kind of odd to draw something outside on the ground, using ground up chalk, rice, or stone. The drawings are walked on, they’re washed out by rain, or blown around in the wind. Remember, this is a daily practice and the homeowners replace the design each day.
Kolams were originally made with coarse rice flour so that if placed directly outside the home, ants wouldn’t enter the house. This would help keep ants outside, because food was found before entering the house (kinda like a miniature ant drive-thru). The rice flour also invited all sorts of other small creatures, like birds, which reminded homeowners and inhabitants of the relationship between all living beings. Kolams are like a “welcome mat”, inviting all beings into the home. Kolams also paid homage to Lakshmi, the Goddess of prosperity and wealth. So who wouldn’t want that invited into their home? The tradition also says that the lines and shapes of Kolams must be completed so that it prevents evil spirits from entering inside the shapes, which symbolically means they are prevented from entering inside the home.
The tradition and designs are often passed down from generation to generation, but you can learn to draw your own! Check out this video: