See this drawing? It was painted by our early ancestors on the walls of the caves in which they lived. Often they would draw bulls and bisons. These were the animals they went out to hunt.
Drawing them was a way of getting the courage to go and hunt successfully. They knew that if the animal did not die, there was a chance that one of them might. Drawing the pictures of bulls and bisons was a way of overcoming fear to get what they wanted: food and a long life.
Floor drawings for a long life, and good luck
Things have not changed much even today. Just as the cave man drew pictures of the things he wanted in life, in India, women make the same wish with patterns and drawings on the floor, especially during festivals. For example, images of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, are drawn as a prayer, asking for good luck and wealth for their homes.
In south India, these floor patterns are called kolam. In the north, they are called rangoli. It is an art form that has come down from mother to daughter through generations.
The kolam of Tamil Nadu
In Tamil Nadu, for example, a kolam is made every morning on the threshold of the house. The floor is cleaned, the kolam made with rice paste mixed in water. Members of the family feel that all is well around them.
During the day people come and go, stepping over the kolam. Nobody minds. By evening the kolam is almost wiped out. But nobody minds. Just as the sun sets to rise again the following morning, a kolam is wiped out only to be made freshly the next morning.
Painting with two fingers
To see the women draw a kolam is fascinating. If the rice paste is not too thin, they dip two fingers into the mixture and draw as if they are holding a paintbrush.
Or they take a little cloth piece, dip it into the paste, and squeeze it gently between their fingers as they draw according to their pattern.
Starting with a dot
The kolam is begun with a single or twin dots followed by circles around it. A single dot is a way of showing nature and life. Twin dots, which are often painted red and white, stand for man and woman. Or, the sun and the moon.
Even today, most people use mainly red, yellow and white colours in kolam-s. Red is obtained from kumkum (vermilion), yellow from turmeric, while rice paste makes up the white colour. Red is the colour of blood. It stands for life. White is a symbol of purity while yellow gives a hint of the medicinal properties of turmeric. Black is almost never used as it stands for darkness, fear or evil. In Maharashtra, green replaces red as a symbol for life.
Rangoli of West Bengal
In coastal states like West Bengal, the shankh or the conch shell and fish images are commonly used in rangoli. Fish is an important part of Bengali food and drawing it means that you wish for a full stomach every day of your life. The conch shell is always used in ceremonies like marriages.