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The Art of Rang-full Celebrations

Is it the vibrant colour, the patterns or the simple joy of making it with your hand; here’s what makes floor arts such an integral part of our Diwali celebration?

By Madhulika Dash; Pictures courtesy - istock

Let’s face it: There is something amazingly exciting, joyful and addictively engaging about a rangoli – and by that we don’t just mean watching the experience of seeing a pattern turn into a design but also the transient nature of these ancient floor art. No two rangolis ever look the same, even if they were started with the same patterns, and yet, at the end, both have this attractiveness about them that spells ‘celebrations’ in bold. This perhaps explains why rangoli is such a go-to factor in our celebration of Diwali, not just in the North, where the festival is said to have belong, but across India – although known by different names and recognised by its different styles.

So while in north they are called Rangoli, which is a derivative from the Sanskrit word, Rangavalli meaning a splash of colour; down South, it goes by the name of Kolam, and in eastern side, it is called Chitta or Alpana, depending upon which state are you in.

The fascinating part however goes beyond the names and into their very make. While Rangoli stays true to its name of using vibrant colour and uses a wide variety of materials starting from coloured grains to flowers to even naturally made colour powders; its peers like alapana, chitta and even kolam remain the realm of white and use ground rice paste as their material – with a few occasions where a little red makes its appearance just to enhance the design.

But how did these floor arts forms become a part of Diwali celebrations? While most folklores credit rangoli association with Diwali to the epic event when Lord Ram returned to Ayodhya and the people celebrated the homecoming of their favourite prince with diyas and rangolis; traditional history has a different explanation. Rangoli or Alpana, which we see today evolved from the very first language spoken by humans – the wall art. It wasn’t just a tool of creative expression but also story telling. Even when language became a part of communication, drawing remained an integral part of our lives – only this time they were evolved to have more symbolical meaning and greater aesthetics thanks to the women folk who began using the art form as aesthetics and also as part of their traditional rituals. The simplicity of patterns that usually began with dots or polis before they magically transformed into these fascinating designs of wonderment along with the fact that there was no wrong way to approach earned these floor arts the brownie points among women who began using as part of every big celebrations – which till medieval history was mostly harvest festivals like Onam, Baishaki, Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Bhogali Bihu and Diwali.

That transition marked a new era for the old floor art that bore its origin in the rustic tribal art of the yore. Suddenly these designs took a greater significance. No more were they just aesthetics but a fascinating design school that used patterns and symbolism to tell stories about our traditional legacy. And over the years developed more complicated formats that not only up the ante of story telling but also attracted behavioural experts and mathematicians to study the symmetry of the art form and its effect on human mind.

What they discovered was this: the rangoli/alpana/kolam or jhonti were not just mere drawings, but patterns that helped in easing the stress of the mind, and since it is hand-made it also gives the happy sense of achievement that manifests itself in joy. In the Indian context however, the sole reason that associates alpana or rangoli with Diwali (and other celebration) is that it is the way we pay ode to nature. Jhontis or Kolam are in fact made for ants and hence uses rice. The artistry is just an assurance that no one steps over the offering.