Patterns drawn on the ground outside front doors are a common sight in India. They are called kolam in south India and rangoli in north India, though they are known by some other names too. These patterns may be simple or complicated, drawn in white or with colours.
The tradition of drawing kolams dates back about 5000 years. There are several reasons why these patterns are drawn. Broadly speaking, they have a religious purpose, and a decorative one.
The beautiful patterns are believed to attract Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth. So they are a way of welcoming prosperity into the home. Also, different kolams are drawn on different religious and social occasions. During Deepavali, lamps are usually drawn. During Pongal, Tamil Nadu’s harvest festival, sugarcane and pots boiling over, symbols of joy and prosperity, are the usual designs.
Another reason why kolams are drawn at outside front doors is that their beauty calms the minds of those who enter the home. When we see something attractive, we feel happy, don’t we?
Hindu philosophy encourages caring for all forms of life. Kolams are a way of doing this – they are traditionally drawn with rice flour, which ants and other small insects can eat.
Kolams are usually drawn by women. To draw the patterns, they have to bend, and stretch their arms upwards and sideways. It’s a way of getting some gentle exercise.
And finally, kolams need concentration and control. They are usually built around a series of dots. Although now there are rollers, boxes and plates to make ‘instant kolams’, the old free-hand method requires those who are drawing them to keep count of the dots, and make sure there is symmetry in the pattern. Mathematical and geometrical skills are polished up along with the chance to get creative!