Village kolam

Kolam at the entrance to Solar Kitchen

Kolam at Coimbatore

In villages across Southern India, women get up at 4am, while it is still dark, to make the fire, and to cook breakfast and rice that the family will take with them in their metal tiffin carriers for eating later in the day. At the standpipe, where they wait to fill their water pots, there is often a queue but returning home there is still time to sweep the threshold and trace an intricate pattern in rice powder on the ground. These are kolams and there is a vast repertoire of traditional designs that girls learn from their mothers. Sometimes a grid of dots is made and then the pattern flows, often in a continuous line, a maze in which to catch any evil spirit who may try to intrude, or so it is understood in the village. In the temple the lines of the pattern may be filled in with seeds and grains as an offering to the god before the shrine and it is later worn away by the feet of devotees and enjoyed by ants.

Whether a kolam is drawn as an offering or a protection, it is a ritual without which the beginning of the day is not complete.

Lesley Croome