Tourists to any Indian state, especially to the southern
states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andra Pradesh will
be greeted by elaborate designs at every door-step and
even at the temple portals. Many a westerner has clicked
photographs of these designs and some have even tried
In states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa, designs and
patterns are displayed with colorful powder too. In
Kerala during Onam festival, patterns are decorated with
flowers and foliage! Even today, the devout Tamilian
woman will decorate the entrance to her home with
elaborate designs made of rice flour.
Ancient India had its hub in the villages. Indians have
always believed in the principle of living and letting
others to thrive also. “Live and let live”, being
the policy of Indians, it is one country that has not
waged wars with any country and never ventured to
conquer another kingdom. Hinduism itself is more a way
of life than a religion, and is known to have never
imposed its views on people of other faiths. On the
contrary, Hindus have been tolerant people, permitting
the myriad population in India to practice any faith of
In villages, ancient Hindus depended on plants, herbs and
nature to help in their sustenance. At the crack of
dawn, after milking the cow, its dung is collected and
the mud floors outside and inside of a home is cleansed
with this dung! Even today, in villages this ritual is
followed. Much to the astonishment of westerners, the
cow’s dung has antiseptic properties and is used as an
insecticide and pesticide. Mosquitoes are known to be
repelled by the odor of dung.
After cleaning the mud-floors with cow-dung, womenfolk drew
elaborate patterns and designs with rice powder. The
wisdom behind this ritual is that while dung repels
mosquitoes and other insects, ants could feast on the
rice powder and thus restrict their trail to the portico
without entering inside the house! Ants forever in
search of sweets and sugar granules were too tiny to be
killed. Moreover, ants were regarded with reverence as
Lord Ganesha’s favorite creature. Remember, Indians
never resorted to killing mosquitoes, but repelled them
with dung or neem oil or by planting neem trees.
Similarly, ants got their quota of food and didn’t
need to march right inside the house.
Why rice flour?
Paddy is the main food crop in South India and South Indians
are primarily rice eaters. And ants are rice eaters too.
Why burden the tiny ant with a grain of rice, when it
can feed on rice powder to its heart content! Not only
ants, but the rangoli drawn with rice powder is fodder
for all pests and insects. This, way, Hindus kept all
However, today, with concrete floors having substituted
mud-floors of yore, the humble rice no longer draws a
fine line, thanks to the non-absorbing capacity of
concrete! So, women, today mix rice powder with other
chemical mixtures. And the intricate designs of
yesteryears have been replaced by simple ‘kolams’(Rangoli)
today, by the boardroom women.
On festive occasions, when numerous relatives and friends
would visit each other’s homes, South Indians mix rice
powder in water and draw designs. Rice powder can be
erased by several footsteps moving in and out of the
house, but rice powder mixed in water lies imprinted on
the ground for a longer time. Moreover, a festive
occasion needs to be treated differently compared to an
Did rangolis or kolams have a purpose?
If you examine the myriad civilizations of the world, you
would find that after the basic needs of humans were
fulfilled like acquiring food and water, shelter, man
usually tries to form a community. The proverb, “Birds
of a feather flock together”, holds true. Man looked
forward to huddling together with people of his kind or
in groups. When people live in a society, a camaraderie
develops and soon, man tries to ingratiate himself in
the group in many ways, one of which is striving to be
useful. Thus, early man used his talents to win the
approval of his peers. It also helped him to bring out
his latent skills to the fore.
Similarly, women too were able to express themselves
artistically through needle-work, drawing on the walls,
tree-trunks or floors, remember, paper wasn’t
discovered then! Staying indoors, women had something
exciting to look forward to every morning when they
could compete with their neighbors in drawing better
patterns. Earlier, things commonly found in nature like
leaves, peacock, birds, flowers etc were portrayed.
However, not all women were talented artists, but had a
meticulous eye for details. Thus, was born the time of
drawing patterns with dots and lines.
Even today, Indian women connect numerous dots to form
intricate and complicated, but aesthetic patterns.
In the villages
of Tamil Nadu at the crack of dawn and even towards
evening, women sprinkle the portals of their homes with
water and draw beautiful designs with rice powder or
This practice not only cleans the portals of your home, but
when drawn early in the morning, shakes off sleep from
the eyes, gives women something to look forward to, to
excel and compete with their peers, and to master
complicated and complex designs. A woman’s ability and
efficiency is compared to the way she draws the kolam. A
symmetrical design, with the dots placed equidistantly,
with the connecting lines show how balanced and
efficient a woman is. The curves in a pattern if drawn
artistically, again exhibit her artistic and feminine
bent of mind.
The myriad patterns just go to show her willingness to learn
new things. The use of colors that are pleasing to the
eyes reflect her mental state of either being vibrant,
flamboyant and friendly or serene, calm and civil.
A steady and unwavering mind usually has the ability to
co-ordinate the same traits to the hand, which draw
symmetrical patterns with straight lines or curves
resulting in proportionate designs. A pattern drawn in a
hurry, in a slipshod manner again indicates the
woman’s state of mind then.
An imaginative mind and a trained eye can actually discern
the personality of the person who has drawn a pattern.
And yes, by mastering the patterns, one can
master the mind too!
When you want to bring forth the best design without a line
or dot out of place, you would concentrate all your
energies at that point there and your cares and worries
are for a minute in the back of your mind.
That apart, like sharing recipes, sharing secrets, taking and
doling out advice and laughing at a joke, women
exchanged patterns and indulged in healthy competition,
which brought out the best in each.
Also, as women were inside the house mostly, the drawing of
rangoli provided the much needed exercise that bending
and rising did. Men anyway physically toiled in the
fields or outside. Also, the intricate patterns
represent a maze, indicating that life is a maze and
entering it and coming out of it, by touching every
aspect of life can be a challenge, but can be done with
equipoise, sensitivity, blending aesthetics with reason!
There’s a method to every pattern as there is a method
to problem solving in life. Following that method
ensures you live life to the fullest.
Why women and not men draw rangolis?
For the simple reason that men spent less time at home, as
they were busy outside, and women in their spare time
had something productive to do, instead of idling and
inviting the devil into their minds, women often draw
rangolis. Many men who are artistically inclined do draw
beautiful patterns too.
Kolams for auspicious occasions
South Indian marriages, thread ceremonies and other
auspicious occasions and festivals are marked with the
most elaborate kolams in the venue and outside. Apart
from the reasons mentioned above, people entering the
portals of an auspicious occasion will also be happy and
light, it’s believed. The ‘kaavi’ that is of an
earthen hue is a liquid used by crushing limestone and
red brick powder is used to outline the border of the
kolam. It’s believed that the kaavi prevents evil
intentions of others from touching the happiness of the
Rangolis in the temple
Temples are cleaned too and rangolis drawn in front of every
sanctum sanctorum. This again is an act of revering the
sacred chambers of the Lord, the basic reasons remaining
the same. However, certain designs or yantras as they
are popularly called are made for a specific purpose.
Certain patterns usually signify the code of certain
prayers or wishes and are drawn to achieve those like
wealth, health, annihilation of enemies etc.
When temple deities are acrid out in a procession around a
village or town, women clean their portals and draw
fresh patterns showing their reverence for God. It
symbolizes that they have cleansed their heart and mind,
erasing unwanted desires, anger, and despair and in
their place have drawn beauty and have made space for