The Hrydayakamalam

Patterns On The Floor


As the sun prepares to visit this part of the world, a few of its rays have jumped ahead, trying to take a peak at our front entrance. While most of the city is either asleep, or busy getting ready to take on the day’s work, my mother opens the door and thoroughly cleans the floor with water. She then opens a small box and picks up a pinch of the white powder that it contains.

The Hrydayakamalam
The Hrydayakamalam

She rolls the powder between her thumb and index finger and makes a series of dots. They are perfectly arranged in a symmetrical pattern – drawn with pin-point accuracy. She picks up more powder and with a steady hand, draws several even lines – some connecting the dots, others, encircling them.

Ever since I can remember, my mother has performed this fascinating ritual, every single day, without fail.

Traditional dots at the Surajkund crafts fair
Traditional dots at the Surajkund crafts fair

Earlier, the only source of obtaining the kolam podi*, was relatives who visited us. Our trips to Chennai would be incomplete without buying the white stone powder, which she used for making the designs. Now the powder is available more readily. Kolams are not common in Delhi. Here, elaborate ‘rangolis‘** are made with colourful powders and flowers, that too only on Diwali, or special occasions. Some other migrants like us make the kolams with a more long lasting wet ‘paint’ made using rice flour. Others use ready-made stickers.

Traditional Kolam made with lines and filled with red stone color
Traditional Kolam made with lines and filled with red stone colour

Visitors often ignore the kolam at the entrance and sometimes step over them. Some mischief makers deliberately destroy them. And on several occasions, the sweeper sweeps them away. It infuriates my mother… “Kolams are swept away only when the family is in mourning… Wiping it away is a sin”, she would shout. But nothing has ever deterred my mother from starting afresh the next morning.

In Chennai, though, kolams are found everywhere – at the entrance of every house, temples, and even public buildings. Friday belongs to Devi, and so, the kolams are extra special on these days. On festive occasions, the red stone comes out of the shelf. The stone is dipped in a little water and the kolam is painted with a deep red colour.

A small temple in a hospital (Chennai)
Kolam in a hospital (Chennai)

Celebrations like marriages present a much larger canvas for the ladies. Rice flour kolams are prepared the night before the auspicious event, and, covering large areas, they are grander than what one can imagine. That they will be hidden beneath the holy flame, does not matter to the artists.

As the years have rolled by, my mother’s kolams have evolved. They are no longer limited to the strict geometrical patterns. Nor are the materials restricted to the traditional ones. The kolams are now more abstract, and created spontaneously. On special occasions, she adds more colour – something that she has adopted from the North Indian rangolis. There are times when she is unable to make it early in the morning, but even today, she does not allow anyone to step out of the house before the kolam is drawn. And we don’t mind – the entire process takes just a few minutes – the years of practice have made it second nature to her.

The neighbour's kolam (Chennai)
The neighbour’s kolam (Chennai)

It is this art form, and my mother’s interpretations and designs, that inspired me to create something of my own. Based on the traditional paisley motif – the  ‘aam‘, or the ‘mangai‘***, it is a tribute to the millions of women who practice traditional art forms as part of their daily lives. It is a tribute to the art form that encourages everybody to become an artist.

But above all, it is a tribute to my mother – who expresses her creativity and skill through patterns on the floor every single day, only to sweep it away the next morning.

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* * *

* Podi – powder
** Rangoli – Hindi term designs made on the floor.
*** aam – Hindi for mango
mangai – Tamil for unripe mango

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Published by

kasturika

Stories, places, hobbies, musings, maybe the odd poem... Hopefully, all these seemingly random pieces will fit together one day to reveal the grand mosaic that the cosmic universe has planned for me.

11 thoughts on “Patterns On The Floor”

  1. Awesome!! 🙂 i had a BIG smile all through while reading this post on one of my favourite topic :), it is so amazing how aunty manages to create these rangolies every day that too with a uniqueness in every creation…. at times looking at them would make u feel that these rangolies are actually talking to u, about her, her mood, her feelings 🙂 simply blessed with so much talent ….. n i really appreciate you for sharing her talent with us … 🙂 Beautiful 🙂

  2. Thanks for that lovely dedication to your mother, and the kolas she has created at the front door, every morning. It was delightful to see the range of patterns and designs she has created, but more, to imagine the love, and discipline, that endows her family with these symbols of protection every day of her life.
    PS Your ‘mango’ representation is very fine, but I must say, lacks the artless, almost carefree nonchalance of her stone powder ‘drawings’:)

    1. Thank you for the appreciation :)… as for the mango design, I think it does not stand a chance against my mother’s drawings at all. It took me a few days to put it all together, but my mother pulls off something amazing within a span of a few minutes – every day!

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