CHENNAI : Margazhi in Chennai is synonymous with sabha-hopping, piping hot delicacies and early morning pulli kolams. Strings of rice powder, pinched between the thumb and index finger, deftly working patterns and different shapes and sizes in the front yard of every home before sunrise — a familiar sight of the seemingly complex kolams, are the core of the season.
Besides the religious bearings, kolams offer an artistic expression, and are considered as harbingers of auspiciousness and good fortune. With the music and dance season upon us, elaborate kolam designs adorn wet entrances of homes and temples in the city. CE speaks to kolam enthusiasts about what drives them to innovate and create.
‘A fan of intricate kolams’
A Bharatanatyam dancer, Varsha Aiyer started drawing kolams from the age of six. A fan of traditional chikku and padi kolams, she personally prefers intricate designs like the ones used by mehendi artists. "My grandmother was a more traditional pulli and chikku kolam expert. My amma, on the other hand, was considered a revolutionary among her peers for being a freehand artist. Her rangoli’s are a work of awe. I also consider my neighbour, Usha Sundarajan, a huge inspiration for her clinical correctness in the execution of strokes in padi kolams," says Varsha, who believes that drawing kolam is a meditative process and it reflects her personality.
Sanskar Bharathi rangoli
From the smallest star kolam to the biggest Sanskar Bharthi-style Kolam, Thilagalakshmi has tried them all. In 2010, her husband, J Sridharan, introduced her to a social media group called 'iKolam' run by Latha Kalaimani. Through this group, she got acquainted with many kolam lovers all over the world. With this as a foundation, she started a blog and a YouTube channel called ‘Just Not Rangoli’ with 60,000 subscribers. “Freehand kolams or freestyle kolams are my specialties.
Recently, I have been specialising in Sanskar Bharthi rangolis. I can draw dotted kolams (joining dots), chikku or sikku kolams (tangles), padi kolams (parallel lines), alpana (Bengali style), pookalam (Kerala style), and creative rangoli (trending). I've been drawing rangolis in front of my house for almost 45 years, and I've tried not to repeat a design,” says Thilaga who has been drawing since she was five years old.
For details visit: www.justnotrangoli.com Tip: Kolam powder and rice flour should be mixed in 3:1 ratio for a smooth and free-flowing texture. When you fill colours to a kolam, always make a rough sketch of it first. Next, fill colours and finally give a bright outline to the coloured portion, which gives a perfect look to the design.Tip: Start simple, keep an open mind, don't set yourself goals. It's not a race, it's an art. Keep practicing, spend time by yourself to relax, meditate and draw. Most importantly, observe keenly and expose yourself constantly to different styles of kolam done by different people.
Japanese patterns in kolam
“When I think of Margazhi, Sri Andal, my favourite Goddess, who wrote Thiruppavai, comes to my mind. She has also mentioned the word Kolam in her other work, Nachiyar Thirumozhi. I came to know about her from my mother-in-law when I got married in Chennai in 2009. In 2017, I visited Srivilliputtur, Andal’s birthplace, during Margazhi and wrote about her, and Margazhi for a Japanese magazine,” says Akemi Yoshi, a Japanese who has been collecting, and drawing kolam designs for a year now.
Blending Japanese patterns, she says, offers a cultural balance, adding to the distinctness. Her teachers — Gayathri Shankarnarayan, Hemma Kannan (The Lotus Shakti), Grace Gitadelila (Kolam Yoga), Chantal Jumel (Indian ephemeral ground-painting kolam, kalam, rangoli) and all Tamil women who practice this art every morning are her inspiration. Tip: Having a calm mind, and knowing the history/tradition also helps improvise.
‘Traditional kolams need to be revived’
Chantal Jumel has been doing research on kolam and floor paintings for 15 years now. She came to Chennai from France in 2010 and continued her research in a few villages. Chikku and padi kolams are her favourites among the 40 design she knows. “I live in France and came to India when I was 19 years old to learn dance.
A few close friends of mine, especially old women, are my inspiration. Some traditional styles are going out of trend and they need to be revived and kept intact,” says Chantal, a freelance researcher and artist who uses kolam aesthetics as the background of her graphical work. Chantal practices her kolams on paper because the weather in France is not suitable for this art form. She has written two books on floor painting, in French. A part of her book on kolam talks about the popular designs of Tamil Nadu. For details visit: www.chantal-jumel-kolam-kalam.com Tip: Keep in mind the space available for the kolam and the event while deciding the design.
Flowers, spices and everything nice
A structural engineer by profession, lines and patterns have always been a part of Vincy Raj’s daily life. She started drawing kolams since she was eight years old and took a break from it to complete her education. She continued drawing indoor kolams in 2011 after moving to Singapore. From five to 43 dots, she specialises in freehand and chikku kolams. She has also created her own chikku kolam designs.
The kolams in her pooja room are a hit on her YouTube channel, where she also receives requests for daily and special pooja kolams. “I have used flower, vegetables and spices to create kolams. Currently, I manage a Facebook group named ‘Kolam Enthusiasts’ with more than 62,000 members. Every week we have a theme kolam where members are encouraged to think out-of-the-box,” says Vincy whose mother is her biggest inspiration for the seamless strokes and presentation.
For details visit: www.vinns.in Tip: The symmetry of the kolam should be maintained both in design and colour.