Ephemeral drawings to invite the divine on earth


What do we know about Indian art? Grandiose architectural temples and palaces, sculptures representing divinities or exquisite miniatures? Besides these so called classical arts, there is another world which opens little by little to the traveller provided with a pilgrim’s soul.

With the ground as the means of expression, the hand for sole instrument and coloured powders, the Tamil kôlam and the Kerala kalam rest on a dual language, that of silence and humility and of symbolic writing, the gate which opens to the realm of imagination. Prayers for the eyes, the ephemeral drawings draw us into the heart of Indian traditions and its spiritual values.

In Tamil-Nadu, it is the women of all communities and all faiths together who draw on the ground. Just before sunrise, on a carefully swept village dirt pathway or on the pavements of a city, feminine hands in search of eternity create with their fingertips ephemeral drawings or kôlam to invite the gods to come down to earth.

Kôlam is passed on orally by mothers to their daughters and grandmothers to their granddaughters. But in every house we find a note book where the most intricate drawings are recorded. The girls learn by watching, and then fill up empty areas of the kôlam with coloured powders. Later on, the smartest ones will create new designs that they will draw with dexterity and speed.

In this vast continent, the gods have crossed the limits of the temple; mountains or trees are their homes and animals or birds are their vehicles. Trees, plants and flowers are dedicated to them but also symbolize their vegetal forms.

It is in this thousand year old melting pot that symbols and forms have emerged. They represent philosophic ideas or reflect each regions particular customs and rites.