The colorful kolam tradition dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization (2500 B.C). Kolams were often drawn with coarse rice flour since it served as a food source to nature's creatures like ants and crows. Rice flour is seen as an offering to Lakshmi, the goddess of rice and wealth. The goddess has the power to attract prosperity and to prevent poverty from entering the home. Kolam means form and beauty. Kolams symbolize auspiciousness and a welcoming environment. The 'kolam' is a symbol of an open heart and an auspicious welcoming. Its colourful, devotional presence in the villages area is a well appreciated and respected feature, There are several families of kolams. Different families of Kolams are known by different names around India. They are generically referred to in many parts as “Rangoli” which means rows of colors. The “pulli (dots) or neli (curvy) kolam” is very unique and seen mostly in the southern states.Kerala : 'Puvidal' (Puv means flower and idal means arrangement, i.e. Rangoli by flowers)
Tamil Nadu : 'Kolam' (kolam - name of a specific quality of rice. Rangoli is drawn by using rice flour)
Andhra Pradesh : 'Muggu' (Rangoli drawn by using thick batter of soaked rice flour)
Karnataka : 'Rangoli' (From the powder of a special kind of a rock. Tiny dots are drawn on the floor usually in even numbers. These dots are joined with the powder in a geometrical fashion)
Maharashtra : 'Rangvalli' (Rangoli thick powder made from special rock is used in various colors, and the powder of burnt rice skin is used to draw rangoli in Konkan part of Maharashtra)
Gujarat : 'Sathiya' (Rangoli is known by this name)
Rajasthan : 'Mandana' (rice flour mixed with little turmeric. Rangoli is drawn on the walls)
Madhya Pradesh : 'ChowkPurna' (Traditional designs fitted in square with leaves and flowers)
Uttar Pradesh : Rangoli is known as 'Sona Rakhana'
Orissa : Rangoli is known as 'Ossa'
Almora - Garhawal : Rangoli is well popular known as 'Alpana'
Bengal : In Bengal it is drawn by soak rice paste and known as 'Apana' .
This abstract art has a significant interpretation. It is believed that the dots are symbolic of challenges we encounter in our lives and the curvy line around these dots is the journey we take during the course of our lifetime.Kolams also express mathematical ideas that have recently attracted the attention of scientists in India in developing picture languages for various families of kolams.
Kolam (in Tamil) is a decorative design drawn using rice powder by female members of the family in front of their home, especially near the threshold. A Kolam is a sort of painted prayer -- a line drawing composed of curved loops, drawn around a grid pattern of dots. They are generally symmetric. Kolams are thought to bestow prosperity to the homes. For special occasions limestone and red brick powder to contrast are also used. Though kolams are usually done with dry rice flour, for longevity, dilute rice paste or even paints are also used. Modern interpretations have accommodated chalk, and the latest "technology" in kolams are actually vinyl stickers (that defeat the original purpose).Every morning in southern India, millions of women draw kolams on the ground with white rice powder. Through the day, the drawings get walked on, rained out, or blown around in the wind; new ones are made the next day. Every morning before sunrise, the floor is cleaned with water, the universal purifier, and the muddy floor and swept well for an even surface. The kolams are generally drawn while the surface is still damp so that it is held better. Occasionally, cow-dung is also used to wax the floors. Cow dung has antiseptic properties and hence provides a literal threshold of protection for the home. It also provides contrast with the white powder.
Decoration was not the sole purpose of a Kolam. In olden days, kolams used to be drawn in coarse rice flour, so that the ants don't have to work so hard for a meal. The rice powder is said to invite birds and other small critters to eat it, thus inviting other beings into one's home and everyday life: a daily tribute to harmonious co-existence. Not to be underestimated is the benefits for the artist to bend down each morning - it is said to help her digestive system, reproductive organs and to help overall stretching of the body. It is a sign of invitation to welcome all into the home, not the least of whom is Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of prosperity. The patterns range between geometric and mathematical line drawings around a matrix of dots to free form art work and closed shapes. Folklore has evolved to mandate that the lines must be completed so as to symbolically prevent evil spirits from entering the inside of the shapes, and thus are they prevented from entering the inside of the home. It used to be a matter of pride to be able to draw large complicated patterns without lifting the hand off the floor (or unbending to stand up).
Women practice this artistic expression on a daily basis in Southern India. They begin their day with this creative exercise to express simple mathematical patterns in art form. The women decorate their thresholds early every morning with simple designs using rice flour or limestone powder. Rice flour is pinched between the thumb and forefinger and rubbed together while moving the hand along continuously to create the design. One is left guessing as to where the lines began or ended due to the very nature of the curvy lines, for they are generally looped.
Girls begin learning this art form from their female relatives at a very early age. Most kolams are symmetrical patterns and helps in the development of skills such as hand-eye coordination and visual perception. .During the Tamil month of Margazhi (mid Dec- mid Jan) large kolams decorate the courtyards and thresholds of many households When people get married, the ritual kolam patterns created for the occasion can stretch all the way down the street. Patterns are often passed on generation to generation, mother to daughter. Mastery of this art takes a lot of practice and concentration, for even a slight tremble of the fingers or lack of focus can alter the result of the art. The skill and practice required to master this art makes each design created a one of a kind individual experience.