Rangoli is a traditional women’s art form common in Hindu households throughout southern India. Designs are drawn directly on the ground and entranceways as part of a ritualistic religious practice. The front steps, entrance, and walkways of buildings are properly cleaned and then decorated with designs and patterns made with chalk powders. There are a remarkable variety of styles and motifs which vary according to the tribal groups and festivals.
The activity is a welcoming of deities into the home or space. In particular, the way is prepared to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of good fortune but many gods and powers are honored. The activity of drawing the forms is a religious rite and the devotional intention is more important than the end product. The temporary nature of the designs make it clear that the significance is in the deed for it is not creating an object to be held aside and preserved. The designs are quickly lost to the passing of feet, wheels and paws, fading into the dust and bustle of daily life and the ritual of washing and drawing is rhythmically repeated, particularly on auspicious days.
It is one example of the blending of religious practice and art within the rhythms of daily life that are found quite commonly throughout traditional Indian culture. Unfortunately, rapid urbanization and westernization are negatively impacting this remarkable tradition. However, even in an urban environment of modern apartment living the tradition continues on for the blending of religion, art, and everyday life is very much at the heart of Indian culture.
HOW IS IT MADE?
In the early morning hours when the world is just awakening, the woman of the house begins preparations for the day ahead. Daily rhythms include a thorough sweeping and cleaning around the home as well as the courtyard and entranceways. Special care is given to prepare a particular space for drawing rangoli designs and patterns in front of entranceways and along walkways.
The designs vary according to tribal groups and in terms of complexity and scale, there is a very wide range. Designs are generally done with white chalk powder but all reaches a colorful and exuberant zenith during festival time. The designs are laid out with a regular grid of dots or hatching lines which are developed into a wide host of motifs. Designs using a regular grid of dots are created by either connecting the marks or looping around them.
Designs are built upon basic geometric shapes and are further developed into mandalas of swirling lines flowing, curving, and twisting into complicated knots of undulating, rotating, and repeating patterns. The grids also lend themselves to designs of fixed shapes and mosaic like tessellations of stylized flowers, plants, animals, birds, conch shells, chariots, lamps, and much more. The are also given borders and embellishments of running lines, undulating patterns, and mandala like emblems and symbols.
All the designs have an underlying wholeness built upon primary geometric shapes such as circles, squares, hexagons, octagons, and a very wide range of running forms, spirals, rotations, and looping patterns. Most commonly, a simple motif or shape will be rotated and layered to build up the designs, creating a flowing movement or spiraling gesture. The result is an organic and dynamic balance between the fluidity and movement of the hand and the fixed order and determined boundaries of direct line and shape.
The remarkably diverse forms reflect the expressive and devotional impulses of the women who make them. The variety of designs while traditional in origin, often have a very personal character and are a result of the creative vitality working to enliven the energies that connect earthly and cosmic forces. From a social perspective, rangoli is an outward sign that “this is a proper household where the gods are honored”.
Patterns are taught to girls by their mothers and by the time they are young brides, their skills with this art form are most impressive. Quite naturally, the rhythmic nature of the activity leads to some highly developed skills in terms of draftsmanship, control of hand, and balance of form.
But, all things return to the earth and the designs quickly fade into the scuff and dust of comings and goings, creating another layer to the cycles of daily life. Over the past decade, I have marveled at this Hindu practice, appreciating it’s many creative and dynamic forms as well as it’s devotional intentions. This common, everyday aspect of Indian life is a rich artistic and social tradition which imbues spaces with positive intention, heightened purpose, and deeper significance, as well as beautifying the meeting of public and private spaces. As an artist and teacher, I have been fascinated and inspired by the creativity, the endless variety, and sheer beauty of this powerful and dynamic art form.
[Source: D. Nikias]
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Something that should be pondered about and celebrated