What’s always fascinated me about the kolam is how, unlike any other ‘ritual’, it didn’t demand purity. You could wake up and draw one even before you bathed, or post-dinner ahead of a big day, and then go to sleep. It is personal and no one could dare ask you, why you drew what you did. My first introduction to the kolam came from my mother, like it does for so many of us. The kolam was a part of her routine. She drew one in the threshold. She drew one during her everyday prayers and she drew one inside the house, during some special occasions. Nimble, simple patterns that I have since learned just by watching.
The sounds of a man who walked our streets selling kolamaavu (a sparkling white flour) until the early nineties, are still fresh in my memory. By the mid-nineties we moved homes and the new part of town didn’t have a flour seller. We used a limestone to draw. It was rougher than chalk, and my mother taught me to wet the stone before drawing. The first time I used the stone felt like magic. Because it was wet, you could barely see the design as you drew, but as it dried, it grew strong and bright. Almost impossible for anyone walking over it to rub it off, unlike say a kolam made with flour.
On special days, we drew a kolam with wet rice flour, and marked the borders around the kolam with red earth. This was always fun because it was messy, your hands got red as you drew. And my first real introduction to drawing kolams came from tracing the borders of my mother’s kolam with red earth. I felt important when I was asked to do it the first time. Like I was inheriting something; like I was allowed into a club.
All of the knowledge I have about the kolam was passed on to me, by my mother, in a way that was almost subconscious. I learned to draw simple dot kolams, lotus-shaped kolams, line kolams that are especially fun to draw with the wet flour... But I don’t remember my mother and I ever sitting down and just discussing kolams or her teaching me. I remember watching her draw and then trying to repeat these in rough notebooks as a school kid. I didn’t take part in Rangoli contests in schools, back then they were all the rage, because I couldn’t draw. At all. Yet the kolam made art made accessible to me, like a little secret I held within.
These days we have a kolam sticker on our threshold and I draw one around it, using a chalk, perhaps once or twice a year—to mark the beginning of the Karthigai month or on Diwali so I can take some nice photos for Instagram. When a friend was moving into his new house, he asked me if I would come and be a part of the ‘milk boiling’ ceremony. I offered to draw a kolam. Other than this the kolam hasn’t been a part of my life. Until women were arrested for drawing kolams that resisted CAA and NRC.
This year, I plan to draw a new kolam every day. Twitter: @krupage