In the southernmost state of India, called Tamil Nadu, a very sacred ritual called kolam is practiced by Hindu women each day. Mothers and wives rise each morning before the other members of the household and meticulously sprinkle rice flour on the ground in geometric patterns by the threshold of the home. The tradition of kolam is a diverse, deeply spiritual practice, with religious, artistic, and utilitarian origins. Its longevity exists by the grace of a deep-rooted tradition of education between generations of women. Before educational opportunities were made available to women, most religious, practical, environmental, and mathematical knowledge was transmitted from mother to daughter in the home, and especially through the art of kolam. It is argued that these visual designs serve as a physical representation of a woman’s agency in the care and well-being of the home. They communicate information to the community using a silent yet auspicious symbol, and enable rituals of communion with the goddess Lakshmi. The tradition of kolam serves women in Indian society not only an art form that is uniquely their own, but also as an important visualization of their active participation in religion and culture.
This presentation will bring the audience through various regional forms of ephemeral floor art made by women in India, explain the implications this ritual has for the individual, family, community, and society, and broaden the audience's understanding of this beautiful phenomenon.