Rangoli: Traditional Floor Art
Commonly referred to as Rangoli, the very old practice of drawing colorful floor art in symmetrical patterns at the entrance of homes, temples, or other buildings dates back more than 4500 years. The original act served as an offering to Lakshmi, the goddess of rice and wealth. Patterns were drawn using course rice powder meant as food and a sign of compassion for insects and birds. More importantly, it was believed Lakshmi had the power to attract prosperity while preventing poverty from entering the home. In modern times, rangoli drawings still serve as an offering to the gods while offering a warm welcome to visitors. Every day, scores of Indian women rise early to complete this daily chore. It may be a small motif, drawn only with a white powder or chalk but nearly every house, small or big, rich or poor has a rangoli at the entrance.
Early morning walkabouts are a prime time to view this simplistic yet rather impressive performance. Women first wash the front entrance to their homes, sweeping the dirt and debris aside. Water, a spiritual cleanser, is then applied as an aide in applying and preventing the white powder used from easily rubbing off. (Cow dung is still commonly used in the villages where entrance paths have not been laid with tile and cement flooring as in the cities.) Finally, loose dried flour is dropped in a controlled way through their forefinger and the thumb while the ground lays wet. Some households also draw an evening rangoli based on personal preference.
Rice powder, although still used, has been replaced with finely ground white powder typically made of limestone or sandstone. Easier application has given preference to these powders as well as the desire for more colorful and neatly finished designs. In high traffic areas such as temples or weddings, rice powder, and a small amount of water is mixed to make a rice paste. This helps prevent the drawings from easily rubbing off due to the volume of passing feet. During the festival season, the rangoli is drawn in vibrant colors and shapes. More intricate designs are filled in with colored dyes available at every local market. Color can also come from unexpected sources such as coffee grounds, dried flowers and leaves, grains, turmeric, and vermilion.
The location of the rangoli doesn’t change by household. It is always drawn at the front entrance and an additional motif can be found in households with a separate pooja room. Here the rangoli is drawn in front of the deity. Unlike the location, the rangoli motif does change daily. During festivals or deity worship, the motifs are chosen specifically based on these criteria.
Rangoli drawing is such a revered art in India, competitions among schools, colleges, and ladies clubs are held throughout the year. Young girls learn the skills involved in creating rangoli from their mothers and/or grandmothers. It’s a generational custom passed on with fond memories often recalled when asked of locals. As India’s population migrates to the high-rises of the cities, a dilemma of how to continue this rich tradition has arisen. Tourists interested in viewing rangoli up close are best advised to travel to the villages where the custom is still alive and well.
Multiple designs patterns exist but all follow one of three basic types:
Dotted or freehand Rangoli – For this, dry rangoli powder is used. The dots are placed in a certain number and at a specific distance. These dots are then joined to form different geometrical designs. Filling with colors is the next step.
Line Rangoli – For this, the rice paste is used. This is more common in the southern part of India, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh.
Dot and Line or Chuzhi Rangoli– For some of these designs, dots are placed at a specific distance, and lines are drawn around the dots. Most of the time, the line ends from where it starts. This is more popular in the southern states.
Regional names for Rangoli
Kolam = Tamil Nadu
Muggulu = Andhra pradesh
Rangavalli = Karnataka (ranga=color, avali=line in Sanskrit)
Poovidal or Pookalam = Kerala
Chowkpurana = Uttar Pradesh
Madana = Rajasthan
Aripana = Bihar
Alpana = Bengal