Kolam Artist

RadhaKolam Artist

Kolam, an unknown
legacy

The distinct art form of kolam, which has been practised by countless generations of women, symbolises an “open heart, prosperity and an auspicious welcome,” Radha explained, as she sat tracing loops and lines with white rice powder outside her home. It is the women of the household who have historically been responsible for the ritualistic making of the kolam—a tradition passed down from mother to daughter. Radha, too, has stepped into her mother’s shoes, continuing the age-old custom by creating elaborate patterns on the floor each morning, using colours, flowers or simply rice flour.

Radha begins the process at the crack of dawn, before offering her daily prayers, by consulting the design catalogue which was given to her by her ancestors when she first began learning the art. When Radha creates a new design of her own, she archives it in the same book, updating it for the next generation to come. Certain pages of this unique catalogue are covered with dots, which act as a framework for the pattern. Once you connect the dots, the design begins to emerge—a useful practice for beginners.

“Kolam also provides food for the ants,” exclaimed Radha. “In ancient times, there was an edible kolam powder which was used. It helped in feeding small insects and ants. But now in modern times, the powder is full of chemicals and is inedible,” she explained.

Kolam, once made, is supposed to remain throughout the day. “In the early days, we didn’t have cement roads for kolam, so the surface was made from a paste of cow dung and water. It was believed that the smooth surface from cow dung paste prevented small and harmful bacteria from entering the house. It also acts as a cooling agent in the house and helps to maintain a healthy body,” Radha said.

The practice tends to evoke a sense of communal harmony, imbuing the neighbourhood with a lively spirit. Women have spent hours in conversation, laughter and healthy competition, all facilitated by the act of making kolam in close proximity to their neighbours. Radha, too, has often competed with others for the title of ‘Best Kolam of the Day’.

With time, many variations have been worked into the art form. From simple yet intricate kolam made with white powder, colours have also begun being used. However, Radha prefers the pure, untampered kolam practice of bygone days. “Now, you can find kolam stickers in the market, and some ladies will use them and not make kolam by themselves. I feel that by doing so it is taking away the essence of the ritual and how it brought the community together in the early times.”

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