It is around 5.30 a.m. I hear the sound of the water sprinkles, followed by the gentle echoing of the straw broomstick striking the threshold of my childhood home. She is getting ready for her first-morning ritual before the first rays of the sun touch the ground. I walk to the front porch and lay my right bony shoulder blade against the frayed trim of our doorway with my arms crossed beneath my chest, and lean my head over to see her make Kōlam designs. I watch her pinch rice flour deftly between her thumb and index fingers from a stainless-steel bowl creating intuitive patterns by joining lines, loops, and curves while the flour slips through her poised fingertips. I watch her body sway diagonally bending her spine and face forward, and her arms are stretching out to finesse her design with spontaneity and grace. The activity of making the Kōlam emanated a charisma that drew my eye into the Kōlam. I admire her creativity, patience, and the beauty of her flawless Kōlam design drawn with extreme precision and symmetry. She is the artist of our home, my mom.
I grew up along the coastal State of South India named Kerala which is known for its luscious greenery, backwaters, wildlife beauty, spice plantations, and exquisite seafood. Kerala is also famous for its century-old system of medicine called Ayurveda, which is based on the idea of bodily balance and diet, herbal treatment, and yogic breathing.
My source of inspiration to paint mandalas came from watching my mother and women in my neighborhood hometown drawing the Kōlam in front of the thresholds every day. The threshold symbolizes a visual bridge that we cross between the physical and spiritual realms of existence as we enter and exit our homes. As we traverse the space, we are cleansing our ill-will and sending them on their way with renewed spirit and positive energy. The Kōlam making is viewed as a sacred offering.
The Kōlam is a symbol of South Indian Tamil culture and is a ritual art practiced by women in the State of Tamil Nadu. By deftly pinching rice flour or white-stone powder, women create geometric or figurative patterns by connecting a series of dots that are evenly spaced out in a grid structure. The Kōlam making is seen as graceful, delightful, and meditative.
The Kōlam is also drawn in front of the household domestic shrines as an offering and a blessing. Elaborate and complex Kōlam motifs grace the floors during festivities, spiritual events, and celebrations such as weddings, birth announcements, festivals, etc. The Kōlam is a sign of invitation, auspiciousness, and togetherness.
My relationship with the ritual art of Kōlam is personal. I was brought up in a pious middle-class joint family household meaning three generations (myself and my siblings, my parents, my grandparents, my aunt, and uncle) of family members lived together in the same household. Making a Kōlam on the threshold and in front of the household domestic shrine was a daily ritual.
During any religious ritual events, massive Kōlam was made with rice paste. A bit of red powder established the central point of the Kōlam where the ceremony was performed, presided over by a priest chanting Vedic hymns. My family invited friends and neighbors to partake in the occasions, followed by serving a special homemade feast.
My upbringing allowed me to understand the significance of family rituals, the power of prayer and spirituality, and the value of community connections. Sharing a piece of my cultural heritage through my mandalas brings me a sense of belonging, a pathway to reunite with my childhood.
5 Facts About the Kōlam
The Kōlam marks space and time. Space refers to Kōlam drawings on the threshold of households, domestic shrines, and temples. Time refers to daily the Kōlam before dawn or dusk and during special occasions and festivities during the year.
The Kōlam is a ritual offering to the Earth Goddess asking for forgiveness for walking and stepping on her and honoring the Goddess of Wealth and Fortune to bring prosperity and wellness into the household.
The Kōlam symbolizes the deed of “Dharmic Offering.” The rice flour in the Kōlam manifests generosity to non-human creatures (such as ants, sparrows, crows) an invitation to nibble or peck the rice flour to feed themselves.
The Kōlam is a visual prayer for continued blessings for health, wealth, and strength to endure sufferings. The presence or absence of the Kōlam on the threshold of a home conveys information about the emotional sense of the household. The presence of the Kōlam is an indication of a state of ordinariness that the household is alive and harmonious. The absence of the Kōlam communicates to the world that there has been illness, suffering, or death overnight. It is a sign for neighbors to bring food, offer help, and comfort the grieving household members.
The Kōlam is ephemeral. It gets erased by the passing feet, depleted by rain or wind, or eaten by tiny living organisms. The Kōlam, therefore, symbolizes our desires for a moment of fullness before fading. It signifies the ebb and flow of happiness and suffering in our lives.
Why Do I Paint Mandalas?
Painting a mandala gives me a feeling of belonging and identity, a practice that makes me feel closer to my home.
Here, in my home studio, I use a tiny paintbrush to make colorful, intricate symmetrical mandala patterns with lines, loops, and curves -- working organically from the center outwards. I am focused. I feel a sense of calmness and clarity. I capture glimpses of my childhood while I am engrossed in making my mandala patterns. I can see reflections of vibrant color, I can smell the sweet fragrance of Jasmine, I can feel the power of chanting mantras, I can hear the noise of people chattering and children giggling in the background. I can taste the aromatic Indian delicacies: a sign of celebration, unity, and harmony.
Painting a mandala creates an avenue to reminisce about my childhood joy and pay my homage to the lost loved souls. It helps me find peace.
I have been living in the United States for over two decades, and currently, I live in Downingtown PA with my husband, and my two daughters of ages 16 & 11. I hold a degree in Economics & Finance, have previously worked in the business industry and later chose to be a stay-at-home mom. I have been making art since 2015.
I enjoy nature walk with my family, and one of our most favorite family vacation spots in the U.S. is New Hampshire. My other interests outside of art making include organizing, decorating, learning Indian Classical Music, and Sanskrit.
I hope to meet you at an art show, art retreat, or where the destiny takes me.