Inspiring women…….Anantha Valli (1)

Posted by Chantal Jumel

It all started with an invitation to watch the kolam making in the lane of the very popular canteen called “Mami Tiffen stall”. During the sacred month of Margazhi [1] the entrance of the traditional Mylapore restaurant in Chennai sparkles with numerous floor drawings as everywhere else in the neighbourhood and in Tamil-Nadu.

It is at 10 PM after the closure of the place that a team led by Latha or Anantha Valli waters the threshold and part of the alley. A few young men cooks during the day become assistants at night and lend a hand to the lady of the house.  She draws and they fill up the spaces with coloured powders or enhance certain lines with red iron oxide called kâvi. They hurry up as tomorrow morning by 6 o’clock the first customers  appear and drawings will be there to welcome them. 

Latha and Anandha Valli are talented artists. Their expert hands draw effortlessly double lines which flow through their fingers to outline one or several large-sized padi kolam. 


Anantha Valli takes over two days later because her sister-in-law returned to her family home for a few days.

Inspiring women….Ramamani

Posted by Chantal Jumel

“I draw free hand by the grace of God… it comes that is all.. when sitting in front of the tulasi, I visualise the situation,  He shows the  way and I draw the picture”. 

Ramamani lives in Bangalore but does not like to speak much about herself except that she retired after having worked as a government employee. Her main occupation is her offering through prayers or “Sri Krishnarpanamastu”. She draws daily in front of the Tulasi pot, stories of Krishna on a granite slab with powders. The watercolor rendering effect adds elegance to the sceneries.

Inspired by the Ramayana and the Mahabharata,  she hopes that every image will finally reach her Lord. Earlier, she used to draw the Shanka and Cakra until one day, after having visited a temple in Sonda (a village near Sirsi in Uttara Kannada), she felt the urge to paint various stories of Krishna.

Alpona: Images and Symbols of Bengali Women

Posted by Chantal Jumel

It was my first time in Bengal. For years I had dreamt of learning more about the beautiful ephemeral designs described and illustrated in « L’Alpona ou les décorations rituelles au Bengale » (Alpona, ritual decoration of Bengal)[1]; a short but captivating book I had borrowed from the library of the Guimet Museum of Asian Art in Paris. I eventually bought a copy of this precious book and each time I reread it, wondered whether this graphic tradition of East India was still alive and well. L'alpona du Bengale

In this region, these ephemeral drawings are called alpona, alpana, or alimpan, and are associated with rituals called brata performed by women during festival times. These rituals occupy a central place in the lives of village women. Brata can be both a form of domestic piety and a celebration of the forces of nature, and are dedicated to celestial bodies and divinities, in particular Lakshmi or Lokkhi, the goddess of abundance, who is invoked in this case. Some brata are very popular, while others are more elaborate. They can be accompanied by song and dance and have several purposes: for the protection of children or a husband, for a good harvest and abundant rain, to restore the fertility of alluvial plains. The texts and fables which accompany the drawings declare the triumph of the sun and the defeat of winter, while others evoke the marriage of the sun and moon in springtime, or celebrate the birth of spring and its union with the earth.

In Pather Panjali by Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray[2], a young girl called Durga performs the Punyipukur brata. Kneeling outside her home, she digs a hole in the ground and places a branch inside, before offering flowers and invoking the rain and a divine blessing for a good husband: “Holy pond, flower garland, who prays here at noon? I am the pure maiden, Leelavati, the sister of my brother…Mother Goddess, teach me. I know not how to pray. May I give my husband a son. May I die by the Ganges. Oh Haro of Parvati…May I always be pure”. The scenes which follow are of the water of a pond being rippled by the wind, and a prairie of lotuses swaying under a downpour. (4.19 Durga gets ready and dig a tiny pond, The prayer starts at 5.38 until 6.01).

[1] Abindranath Tagore, l’Alpona ou les décorations rituelles au Bengale, Editions Bossard, Paris, 1921.
[2] Pather Panjali», Satyajit Ray’s first film in 1955.