Sometimes we fail to see things that are right in front of us. And it took me four days of looking around and racking my head, to see the obvious.
Be it the drafting paper or the guides of a digital tool, the grid is an important part of a designer’s work.
After I finished kicking myself for failing to realize this, I began seeing grids everywhere. The mosaic on the building’s wall, the tiles on our balcony floor, the chessboard inside the attic, the flannel of a train passenger, the gate of my office, the pattern book for cross stitching, the visible and imaginary separators in the drawer…
I realized that the grid is not just a tool for a designer, it is design — working for us without drawing attention to itself — hidden in plain sight.
This is a screen grab of the logo I created some time ago for a t-shirt ‘brand’ I tried to create*. It is the letter ‘ka’ written in four languages — Tamil, Hindi, English and Bengali (the last one being accidental!)
A couple of weeks back, I ordered a bag from the online store Chumbak*
The bag was of very good quality, no doubt, but what I liked more were the little bits of detail in the product package — the bright pink tags on the bag; the caption that said ‘Designed with love in India’; and my favourite, the metallic baby elephant!
A symbol of my love for textured paper; a symbol of national pride; and a symbol of the joys of little surprises.
Kudos to the team at the store for putting their heart into the purchase experience!
In other marketing news, here’s something I recently created — a t-shirt of my mother’s kolam!
This is the first of what I hope will become a series of tees – see, there’s a logo too! 😀
I’m still figuring out how to go about all this, and I need your help to make it successful. I’d really appreciate if you would share this with anyone who’d be interested in buying it 🙂
If you’d like to purchase it, it is available here and here.
As I prepare to step outside, I keep my phone camera handy.
I turn around and tell my mother how I interpret her drawing. In the 30 seconds it takes to get down the staircase, we have had a full conversation of the different ways in which we perceive the world around us.
Amma‘s drawings on the floor are my inspiration – a world of art that flows effortlessly through the stone powder – a new one, every single day.
While I was in Chennai last year, I received a message from a friend of mine:
‘So are you coming tomorrow?’
‘I’m in Chennai right now’, I replied.
‘Ooh Margazhi. Have fun!’
I didn’t understand what she meant by that. I had visited Chennai during the winter months a few times in the past, but apart from the pleasant weather, I couldn’t think of any other reason to enjoy. I soon found out.
The Tamil month of Margazhi* is considered highly auspicious. For those who are religiously inclined, Margazhi is a month of lots of pujas — temples open much earlier and devotees visit in large numbers for the special pujas. But that was not what my friend, an ardent follower of performing arts, meant.
Margazhi is a cultural extravaganza, a haven for fans of the classical arts, with hundreds of Kutcheries — music and dance concerts — organised throughout the month. Margazhi is, in fact, now synonymous with the music festival.
Chennai takes its music seriously, and audiences don’t clap unless the performance is very good. I found that out on our last day in Chennai, when we spent close to six hours in one auditorium, listening to back-to-back musical performances (for free)!
Even those not interested in the arts — and there are probably few of those in Chennai — cannot escape the Margazhi season, for the art overflows on the streets. Take a walk in the interior parts of residential areas. The Kolams that are drawn at door-steps of every house are much bigger and colourful. The kolams at the temples, though, were my favourite. These are from the Chidambaram temple:
Kolam at Chidambaram Temple
One of the twin kolams along the side of the entrance of Chidambaram Temple
And if you are not interested in art, well then there’s always the sea. The cool sea breeze, on the cool sand is the perfect place to relax.
Yes, Margazhi is the time to visit Tamil Nadu.
*Margazhi begins in mid-December and ends in mid-January. The Corresponding Sanskrit name is Mārgaṣīrṣa. After the end of this month, the harvest festival of Pongal (which falls on Makar Sankranti) is celebrated. The festival marks beginning of Uttarayan – the beginning of the sun’s ascent, signifying the beginning of the end of winter.
The images in this post are my entries for this week’s Photo Challenge. To see more symmetrical images, check out the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.
We were on our way to the Vaitheeswaran Temple, when we decided to take a short detour. The magnificent gopuram* of the ancient temple was visible from afar, and it was on an impulse, that we decided to visit the Chidambaram temple.
Opposite the entrance stood an intricately carved wooden structure, being prepared, perhaps, for the grand pooja which was to take place only two days after our visit. A long row of shops – selling flowers, pooja items, idols of Gods, colourful kolam powders and filter coffee – lined either side of the path leading up the entrance. We deposited our slippers with one of the shoe-caretakers (for lack of a better word), and stepped inside.
Beautiful kolams greeted us, followed by the grand gopuram which we had seen from afar. There were more gopurams inside the premises. Hundreds of devotees had come, mostly in crowded buses, from different parts of the country. We followed the crowd.
After a long walk from the entrance, we entered the main shrine. Devotees who were closer to the sanctum sanctorum, bent over the railings; those who were behind, stood on their toes; children sat on shoulders of their fathers, all of them waiting to get a glimpse of Nataraja, the lord of dance. As the curtain was pulled apart, temple bells and folded palms filled the shrine.
This ancient temple, spread over 40 acres, is one of the largest temples in the world (fourth largest, to be precise)**. Intricate sculptures of deities atop the gopurams, stone panels depicting dance postures, halls with high ceilings, all supported by massive pillars embellished with floral detailing. With several shrines and tanks, the temple priest told us, it would take one full day to properly visit the temple complex. An hour, was hardly going to be sufficient to soak in the magnificence and grandeur of the temple.
Every year Bharatanatyam dancers converge in this temple during the annual festival to worship, their offerings in the form of dance. I can only wonder what that atmosphere would be like. Hopefully I will visit the temple once again. And on that day, I will spend more than just an hour.
* Gopuram is a monumental tower, usually ornate, at the entrance of any temple, especially in Southern India. This forms a prominent feature of Koils, Hindu temples of the Dravidian style. They are topped by the kalasam, a bulbous stone finial. (Source: Wikipedia)
** The three largest temples are, in order, Angkor Wat, Cambodia; The Srirangam Temple, Trichy, Tamil Nadu: Akshardham, Delhi, India (Source)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
* * *
* Podi – powder
** Rangoli – Hindi term designs made on the floor.
*** aam – Hindi for mango
mangai – Tamil for unripe mango