The south Indian art form of kolam, usually drawn outside entrances with rice flour, chalk or a special white stone powder, is nothing short of a visual puzzle. Unlike the colourful rangoli that’s popular across the country, kolam is usually in white, sometimes with a dash of rusty red around the borders or to fill spaces within the pattern.
Lines cut across to form complex geometric shapes, dots are strung together to form the most interesting designs. In such puzzles, it sure is difficult for a viewer to discern the kolam’s starting and ending points unless they’ve seen how it was drawn from the beginning.
For designer, photographer and entrepreneur Bhargavii Mani, drawing kolams is a therapeutic process. What started as a personal happiness project for her about a year ago has excited many who have taken an interest in her hobby.
“I was starting to feel a little burnt out and that was when I decided to reflect upon life. In passing, my mother suggested that I get into some routine, to do something for myself. I thought I'd start with something simple, so I started with making my bed every morning. Then I decided to start my day with the kolam. Growing up, the daily kolam would be my responsibility. I thought, why not start there?” begins Bhargavii.
She continues, “Initially, I struggled with my strokes, though I used to do big ones as a child. Social media has so many designs for people to learn. I started slow and without my realising it, my senses started getting tempered. It soothed me in a way.”
The kolam is a common sight outside most south Indian houses, and is sometimes drawn twice a day, once in the morning and again before dusk falls.
According to Bhargavii, kolam is not just a design technique but offers quite a few interesting life lessons. “There’s always so much to learn. I used to feel demoralised when my kolams would be walked upon or erased by someone. But my friend pointed out that such an act taught us the law of impermanence. 'Anyway you are going to erase it the next morning. You do your job and let it be. You have no control over what might happen to it,' he said. That just blew my mind,” she says.
And she also has a curious perspective to share on the ‘pulli’ (dot) kolam. “I’ve had people tell me that one should not draw the ‘pulli’ kolam outside homes. They believed it would invite trouble. I have a theory. If the dots are the problems, then the lines that weave around them or join them are the solutions! At the end of your problem solving process, you are left only with a beautiful design. Isn’t that interesting?” asks Bhargavii.
But for someone who has been posting complex “idukku pulli kolam”, “sangali kolam” and “mittai potlam kolam” Bhargavii is unable to recall how old she was when she first started.
Idukku Pulli Kolam
Mittai Potlam Kolam
“I think I would be lying if I gave you a number. You just understand how it works if you understand the technique. It is all about the technique. You started doing it when you started doing it,” she chuckles. However, Bhargavii attributes her engagement with kolams to her aunt Shanthi Chandrashekar who encouraged such interests. “My Periyamma (aunt) is my biggest inspiration in this. She would draw the most breathtaking kolams I’ve ever seen,” she says.
What started as her personal happiness project has now touched many through her Instagram page Kolam Podu which has close to 2000 followers now. “Initially I was only posting pictures on my personal page. A lot of women reached out to me on the secret to positivity, and I would tell them to start putting kolam. In fact, of the six who came to me at first, four of them said it was making them feel happier. I realised it wasn’t just me,” she adds. This encouraged her to open an exclusive kolam page. Bhargavii also gets regular updates from her followers on the kolams that they have tried in their houses.
Bhargavii, who runs a design house, also dabbles in graphic designing and posts small videos on how the kolams are drawn. She now plans to launch a web series on kolams on her YouTube page. “There are a lot of how-to-do videos for kolam on the internet. But I thought we should have an explainer for kolams, add interesting nuggets of information, discuss some of the folklore associated with kolams and make it more fun. I believe such knowledge should be shared,” she says.