Apart from collecting year after year kolam designs along the lanes of Mylapore or in Tamil villages, I like to learn drawing also. I may never become as skilled as many of the women I met but I enjoy assembling dot after dot a symmetrical canvas and join the little marks until imaginary flowers or powdered birds arise from the ground. My favorites are line kolam with double or shaded lines. Their basic structure alternate from an austere square to a wavier one. I understood that they respectively belong to two different traditions. The shivaite kolam are strict parallel lines akin to a zen garden that is raked to represent ripples in water. The Vaishnavaite ones undulate and form curly ribbons hosting flowers, fruits or birds at times with a baroque touch.
My great pleasure as soon as I reach Chennai and my hotel is to read The Hindu newspaper. One year, I came across a few lines mentioning the publication of a book on kolam. You can imagine how excited I was. Next day jumping in a rickshaw, I reach CP Ramaswami Aiyer Foundation in Alwarpet, bought the book and contacted right away, the artist Mrs Janaki Gopalan.
Her daughter to whom I had phoned previously, arranged a meeting and took me by bus to her house. At the gate, one of the most elegant Vaishnavite style kolam I had ever seen, welcomed us both. I was struck by the perfect symmetry and the translucent lightness of the lines. Pineapples and pomegranates sit on the four corners. Birds reaching out for blooming flowers connect leaf-like patterns. Curvy lines alternate with finely decorated pots. The concave square in the center appears fluffy, flimsy almost frivolous as the four lines delineating its body zigzag softly. I had rarely seen such dexterity and artistry combined. I learnt a few designs; she drew for me with her magic hand and I am still dazzled by so much poetry and creative expression.
The book echoes her talent to create exclusive patterns and the feelings that flood her heart in the morning. Available here
I am happy to share with you the release on august 13th of my book on south Indian Kolam. The English version is on the way and the title will be “Journey into Indian imagination, kolam, ephemeral drawings of Tamil women”
Extract from the introduction translated by Isabel Putinja
Welcoming the day
“What a wonderful way to welcome the day: with drawings made of rice flour. It doesn’t matter what you make of it at first glance, a kôlam attracts your attention because of its exquisite patterns. Seen through my western eyes, they remind me of delicate lace doilies. The many thread-like drawings also evoke the ephemeral decorations made of carpets of coloured sawdust or flowers during the Christian festival “corpus Christi”. Something truly surprising happens when a woman’s hands trace these beautiful patterns on the ground and the rice powder meets the dust of the earth.
A stroll at dawn through the towns and villages of Tamil Nadu requires not only an attentive eye which attempts to make out the surroundings, but also a sharp ear. Almost imperceptibly, objects take shape and welcome the birth of a new day, taking on an appearance which is at once resonant, fluid and rhythmic. The chirping of nocturnal insects and cawing of crows is followed by the rustling sounds made by straw brooms and the slapping noise of water being thrown onto the ground horizontally from metal basins. The tiny drops are suspended for the fraction of an instant, forming a transparent veil which falls softly to the ground or bounces joyously onto the pavement.
In the half-light, women holding boxes of white powder call out to each other while sizing up the spot where their drawings will come to life. Bending from the hips and keeping the back at a sharp angle, the women’s wrists provide a rhythmical control to their fingers as they create evenly spaced rows of discreet dots of rice flour or quartz powder, called pulli in Tamil. It is on this dotted line of perfect symmetry that flowers, birds and deities or geometrical patterns will emerge…”
© Copyright 2013 Chantal jumel
Isabel has a wonderful blog and we met for an interview on kolam
The line kolam are drawn using parallel lines which cross over at right angles or diagonally. They may start from a dot or a square and form basic structures such a square, a circle, a cross with diagonals, a swastika or two superimposed triangles. To enlarge a padi kolam, we add a series of parallels lines from which new lines join the preceding ones. Around the design, lotuses, conches or other ornamental motives complete the kolam.
These patterns are more abstract and celebrate the upstrokes and downstrokes of Hindu philosophical speculations. Undeniably, the outlines organized around the center draw the eyes towards the heart of the drawing. Like a yantra or a mandala, negative powers are prevented from entering by the very presence of four stylized gates facing the cardinal directions. The center of a padi kôlam is never left blank and we find one or several dots, diagonal lines, the sun and the moon, a pentagon or a star hexagon.