Kolam designs – A thriving tradition in India
Every morning, millions of households across many states in India have one common ritual cutting across class and social divide. It is the tradition of decorating the entrance to the home with exquisite Kolam designs.
What is a Kolam?
The word ‘Kolam’ is used in the Tamil language to denote geometric patterns created based on dots (“pulli”)
and ornate lines (“kodu”).
There is a clear linkage between kolam and various branches of mathematics such as abstract algebra, sequences and fractals as shown by several researchers
Kolam traces its origins to the pre-Aryan times. This is over 5000 years ago!
Kolam has two key functions – aesthetic and religious. The ornate and sometimes colourful kolam patterns bestow beauty and grace to the entrance of the home. It is believed that Kolams are meant to welcome Goddess Lakshmi and also feed ants and insects as the Kolam powder is made from grains.
This ancient art form and cultural practice continue to enjoy patronage in the real world as well as online!
Check out the Facebook page of My Mom’s Art Gallery. This page has over 70,000 fans and just showcases amazing kolam designs and patterns by Mangalam Srinivasan.
10 Amazing facts about Kolam
Here are some key facts about Kolam designs and patterns.
Kolam designs are known differently outside Tamil Nadu. For example, in the Telugu language, it is called ‘Muggulu’, and it’s known as ‘Rangoli’ in the Kannada language. In fact, Rangoli is more common outside Tamil Nadu and essentially serves the same purpose as Kolam patterns. However, there are differences and you will find out more about it in the next section.
Traditionally, Kolam patterns are drawn by hands by the women in the family.Things are changing with readymade, Kolam stickers and stencils are now available to make the job easy!
Kolam designs are drawn using powdered white stone or with rice flour. The usage of rice flour provides an opportunity for feeding ants, insects and birds. Vegetable dyes are used for colour and also provide nourishment to insects and animals.
Kolam patterns are usually drawn on the ground outside the gate of the house. The ground is first made wet so that the kolam will stick to the ground. If the surface is made of cement or stone, Kolam designs are drawn using wet rice flour. They are more durable than dry rice flour Kolams. However, Kolam designs are meant to last a day or two.
In villages, people wash the ground outside the house with cow dung mixed with water. This is intended to sanitise the area (as cow dung is thought to have antiseptic properties) and also provides a darker background for the white Kolam patterns to stand out.
Wedding ceremonies usually involve elaborate kolams with lots of colours outside the wedding hall as well as in the courtyard of the wedding halls. Kolam designs are considered to signify auspicious occasions and are used ‘liberally’ for all major functions and festivals.
South Indian temples also host a variety of kolams. Women apply kolam designs outside temples when their prayers and wishes are fulfilled. These Kolams sometimes spill into the streets surrounding the temples and provides a festive welcome to temple visitors.Some household apply readymade stickers with kolam designs even inside their homes as they are easy to maintain and last longer than just a day! Kolam stickers are usually used in the corner of the house where all the photos and statues of Hindu Gods are kept (typically known as the Puja room or shelf).
It is thought that kolam and rangoli designs are based on Tantrik mandalas and yantras that represent various gods and goddesses and natural spirits. Here is how Devdutt Pattnaik explains the significance of kolam designs.
“A downward pointing triangle represented woman; an upward pointing triangle represented man. A circle represented nature while a square represented culture. A lotus represented the womb. A pentagram represented Venus and the five elements.”
Kolam patterns are much more than a traditional art. Kolam designs have caught the attention of researchers as well. Timothy Waring from the University of Maine has created a software application that provides a library of kolam designs and generates new kolam patterns. Dr Gift Siromoney of Madras Christian College studied kolam designs to develop picture languages.
Difference between Rangoli and Kolam designs
The traditional Kolam patterns that you will find in Tamil Nadu are usually made just with dry powdered rice or wet rice paste and hence they have just one colour i.e white.
In North India, Kolam is called Rangoli. The key difference being the use of different colours, usually from natural products such as turmeric, vermillion, coloured rice, dry flour and flowers. While women in Tamil Nadu have made Kolam a daily habit, you will find Rangoli mostly during major festivals such as Diwali or during auspicious functions such as a wedding.
Rangoli is also known as Chaookpurna in Chhattisgarh, Mandana in Rajasthan, Aripan in Bihar, Alpana in Bengal, Sanskar Bharti in Maharashtra, Aipan in Kumaon, Kalam in Kerala, and Saathiya in Gujarat. That’s not all, Rangoli designs and patterns vary across India.
Kolam designs with dots – Step by step instructions
Here are a couple of videos from Thilagalakshmi Sridharan and S2 Kolam that provide detailed instructions for creating Kolam designs with dots. These Kolam designs are simple and are suitable for beginners.
If you would to graduate beyond basic Kolam designs, check out these instructional videos by Sudha Balaji.
Kolam design with 6 dots
Kolam design with 9 dots
Kolam design with 11 dots
Kolam designs without dots – Step by step instructions
Here are a couple of instructional videos for creating Kolam designs without using the dots. These videos were created by Rajeshwari Arun and Easy Rangoli.
Kolam designs for Pongal
Pongal is a harvest festival celebrated across Tamil Nadu. One of the highlights of the Pongal festival is the colourful Kolam designs that every household create to celebrate the occasion. We picked out five Pongal Kolam designs for your inspiration.
The Pongal Kolam designs were originally published here and here.
Kolam and Rangoli designs for Diwali
Diwali is one of the major festivals of India and is a celebration of good over evil and light over dark. Diwali Kolam and Rangoli designs are stunning and most Hindu households across India bring out their best designs and patterns to celebrate Diwali. Here are five Diwali Kolam patterns.
Diwali kolam designs were originally published here.
Margazhi Kolam designs
Winter is celebrated in Tamil Nadu with elaborate kolam designs. Called Margazhi kolams, they also come with a pumpkin flower in the middle of the kolam. Here are three margazhi kolam patterns.
Margazhi Kolams were first published here.
Wedding Rangoli designs
Traditional Indian weddings are grand occasions that call for eye-catching and colourful Rangoli designs. Here are seven patterns from weddings.
The wedding Rangoli designs were first published here and here.
Kolam designs to celebrate the New Year!
Indians usher in the New Year with stunning Rangoli and Kolam designs. We handpicked five samples for you.
The New Year Kolam images were published on Rangolidesign.in.
12 Kolam designs from experts for your inspiration
Kamala’s Corner has a treasure trove of traditional kolams from Tamil Nadu. We picked out two kolam designs specifically used for Karthigai Deepam festival that fall after Deepavali in Tamil Nadu.
Here are a bunch of kolam patterns and designs from Vani Muthukrishnan. Her website has hundreds of kolam patterns in case you want more. We picked eight designs.
While kolam is a traditional art form, it has not stopped artists from reimagining kolam patterns for the digital world. Rishidev RK is a Fine Arts graduate and currently an Art Director by profession. Here is a couple of his Kolam inspired designs from his portfolio.
Kolam designs for download & purchase
We rounded up some interesting books on Kolams that will give you plenty of ideas for Kolam patterns as well as interesting information about the history and the evolution of Kolam in India.
Click here to download an old Tamil book on Kolam patterns that was first published in 1901!
Grandma’s Kolam has a collection of Kolams created by the wife of a famous Tamil writer, Kalki Krishnamurthi. You can buy the book from Amazon.
Kolam Art by Madhuri Bapat provides step by step instructions for 10 different Kolam designs. This book is also available on Amazon for purchase.
If you would like to explore the art of Kolam designs from a different perspective, read Chantel Jumel’s work. She is a freelance writer from France who specialises in visual arts of India. You can read about her work here.
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