Rangoli : An Ancient Practice


Rangoli is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘rangavalli’. Rangoli is an art which precedes sculpture and painting. It is both an auspicious and a preliminary necessity in any religious ritual. Rangoli’s most important element is Utswdhermita. Cultural development of Rangoli in the South originated in the era of the Chola Rulers. The two aims of drawing rangoli: Beauty and Spirituality. The purpose of  display of Rangoli or Kolam before the residences is not only  to welcome guests, but  also goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and fortune).

Rangoli; it is nothing but spiritual distribution of colors. If you look back at the designs of the Rangoli then you can see most of them used to maintain Symmetry in their design. Which means left and right side of the Rangoli always used to look similar. It is same like yin and yang symbol, or swastika or Egyptian symbols where symmetry is important. Worldwide in all religions symmetric designs are symbol of prosperity, luck and growth.

According to a legend recorded in Chitra Lakshana, the earliest treatise on Indian painting, a king and his kingdom were steeped in sorrow at the death of the high priest’s son. Everybody prayed to Lord Brahma, who moved by the prayers, asked the king to paint a portrait of the boy on the floor so that he could breathe life into it. And with that the art of floor painting came to life. And that is how rice, flour and flowers were transformed into picturesque offerings to God in the form of floor painting.

The designs would be simple and geometrical but could invoke symbolic forms. Oil lamps would be placed in the Rangoli to give it yet another dimension. Among the festivals,  Diwali  witnesses the greatest presentation of  rangoli.  People make rangoli on the entrance doors of their homes on the auspicious occasion of Diwali. So is the festival of Karthigai Deepam in the Southern states. On the rangoli  displayed in front of homes, oil lamps are placed in a particular geometric pattern. During the festival of Onam in Kerala, flowers of different hues are set on the cleaned floor in an attractive geometric pattern for each of the ten days of the celebration. The design of kolam  with flowers becomes elaborate as the days go by during the festival. In Tamil Nadu, the month of Margazhi (December-January) is an auspicious one . The Hindu belief has been that Sri Andaal, daughter of Periazhavar, the great Vaishnavite scholar in Tamil  worshiped Lord  Vishnu in that month and ultimately married him. So, young unmarried girls get up in the early morning,  draw a Rangoli or Kolam  to welcome the god Thirumal (Vishnu).

There are two primary ways to make a Rangoli, dry and wet, depending on the  materials used: using a  dry rice flour, colored flour, sand, etc. Geometric patterns and  Motifs from nature (leaves, petals, feathers) and geometric or intricate  patterns are common. Motifs from nature (leaves, petals, feathers) are also created. To draw Kolam coarse rice powder is commonly used so that  birds and ants can  feed on the rice powder.

Some major symbols used in Rangoli are the lotus flower, its leaves, mango, Tue vase, fish, different kind of birds like parrots, swans, peacocks, and human figures and foliage. Normally the major ingredients used to make rangoli are – Pise rice solution, dried powder made from the leaves color, charcoal, burned soil was, wood sawdust, etc.. Hospitality and tourism has also had its effect and rangoli has been commercially developed in places such as hotels. Its traditional charm, artistry and importance still remain. Rangoli is also created using coloured rice, dry flour, flower petals, turmeric (haldi), Vermillion (Sindoor) and coloured sand. The patterns include the face of Hindu deities, geometric shapes peacock motifs and round floral designs. Many of these motifs are traditional and are handed down by the previous generations. This makes rangoli a representation of India’s rich heritage and the fact that it is a land of festivals and colour.

The shukla yajurveda samhita gives another story of how Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth passes by every door early in the morning and hence the rangoli was a sign to attract and welcome her. Another story goes in the Charaka Samhita that the Rangoli, which is a highly scientific and geometrical diagram is drawn not only as a decorative piece outside the house but also that there are specific diagrams drawn only on specific occasions. Not all sorts of rangoli can be drawn everywhere. For example, the Yagna hundi cannot have diagrams of flowers around it and must have diagrams that collate to an astral diagram in colliding with the specific nakshatras during that specific poojas.

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