Kolam: folk art from South India

Culture runs deep in South India in everything people do here. A street could become a canvas which portrays so many shades of culture.

It’s common in many urban homes to begin their mornings with art. A south Indian neighborhood could wake up to Carnatic music serenading from one house. Another could be an abode to a family of artists.

One such art form is a visual metonym for South Indian homes. Kolam or Muggulu; a folk art, is a ritual for most South Indians.

Every morning; women wake up to make patterns on wet floors. After they splash water on the floor, women use a fistful of rice flour and trickle it from their fingers to draw dots, circles and loops.

 

Rural and suburban homes in South India, often display elaborate patterns on the ground. In urban areas and even abroad; South Indians decorate their plush apartment doorways with Kolam art.

During festivals, people also use colored sand, powdered dyes and flower petals to make Kolam appealing. Whilst most patterns are floral or geometric in Kolam or Muggu art, people often depict religious symbols like Swastika and Om as well.

This leads to a misconception that Muggu art is restricted to Hindu traditions. Contrarily, the art was handed down to generations of farming communities. Like most agriultural art forms, Muggu art is key in maintaining ecological harmony. The folk art finds its purposse in feeding birds, insects and tiny animals.

According to old traditions, Muggu is supposed to be composed of rice flour to help birds and insects thrive along with the folk art. Muggu which is now often found outdoors is mostly chalk powder and water. People who use chalk and synthetic colors to make muggu patterns believe the art decoration invites Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, into their homes.

Even among villages in South India, people of different faiths believe Muggu isn’t for decoration alone but a lucky charm too. Some people make permanent designs of kolam or muggu at the entrance to their homes.

Some people tattoo the art of muggu or kolam
Some people tattoo the art of muggu or kolam

While Muggu art skirts around religious boundaries in south India; it crosses geographical borders too. Muggu and its variants like Rangoli feature in North Indian states, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Malaysia.

With origins is agriculture, this folk art is well traveled and maybe a popular charm too. Sometimes, though, people forget kolam or muggu art was meant to sustain little insects and birds in a creative way. Now, the art is confined to the limitations of decor and aesthetics which gives the art an intention but takes away the muggu’s original purpose.

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