Krishnan and Kamala came out of their home and crossed the street to bid goodbye to Kamala’s neighbours. She was moving over to Chennai from her native Srirangam, after her marriage to Krishnan recently.

They gingerly crossed the neatly drawn kolam just in front of the house and moved into the house to exchange pleasantries and seek the blessings of elders.

Kamala turned around to see that brother Karthick had brought all the luggage to be loaded into the waiting car. Kamala’s grandparents, parents, brother and sister were also waiting for them at the entrance to their house.

They  knelt down to touch the feet of her grandparents and parents and sought their blessings. Kamala then gave a warm hug to her brother and sister Keerthana while Krishnan waved his hands to them with a smile. After checking that their luggage was properly loaded, they boarded the car and closed the door. As the car started for the railway station, Kamala instinctively turned round and waved to all her friends and relatives, who in turn waved back to them.

The car began to gain momentum as it moved past the variety of kolams drawn in front of each house on the street. The symmetry with which they were drawn was very captivating.The driver, being used to these kolams along the street, took extreme care to drive the car at the centre of the street so as not to ride over the patterns.

Kamala saw her husband Krishnan’s face light up on seeing the artistic work of the residents.

She said ”We all get up very early in the morning before sunrise and start cleaning the area in front of our houses with a broom stick. We mix cow dung in a bucket of water and splatter the water over the cleaned area. We then use white rice flour to draw the kolam over the watered area. The idea in using rice flour is to provide food for ants, insects and small birds. During festival seasons, we use colour powder too, when the colour combination makes it very attractive. Kolams are considered auspicious and enhances the beauty of the house.

“Why do you use cow dung water?” asked Krishnan.

“It is a disinfectant and also helps to keep the sand together. It makes a good brown background on which the white kolam clearly stands out. The kolam is done using white rice flour which invites insects like ants. The wet cow dung keeps insects away till it gets dried,” Kamala explained.

”Once the kolam is drawn, we take a little cow dung, roll it into a ball, keep it at the centre of the kolam and place a colourful flower on it. The cow dung ball is used as a base for the flower. It also retains moisture and so the flower is kept fresh for a longer time,” Kamala continued.

“Oh! How well we still stick to customs, culture and traditions,” exclaimed Krishnan.“We must learn to appreciate the beauty, the precision, symmetry and the creativity in such art. There is medicinal value too and includes exercise, creating a stress free environment and developing mental abilities.”

“There are mathematical and scientific reasons too linked to the kolam,” Kamala remarked.

 According to Devdutt Pattnaik, author and mythologist, “A downward pointing triangle represents woman; an upward pointing triangle represents man; a circle represents nature while a square represents culture; a lotus represents a womb and a pentagon represents Venus and the five elements.

Scientists and doctors have created a new medical field called Cymatherapy, which is used to heal a person’s body and emotions. In neuro-science, it is an established fact that the brain responds to visual patterns and depending on the shape and patterns, it can have different effects on the mind.

They had reached the station by then and boarded the train. The conversation soon shifted from kolam to more mundane things.

In Chennai, they took a cab from the railway station and reached home. They alighted from the cab and Krishnan took the luggage out from the cab, before paying off the cab. Kamala took a look round the vicinity. Unlike Srirangam, a row of high rise flats dotted the streets, with very few independent houses. She found a row of cars and two wheelers parked on both sides of the street.There was just enough space to drive a car on the street and that too with great care. She also found a few curious faces peeping out at them through the curtained windows and from the balconies.

On seeing them at the entrance, a lady came out from the ground floor with a beaming smile, along with another person in tow, with a plate and other paraphernalia required for the occasion. As they stood together, she took the customary arthi. Krishnan and Kamala then moved into their house.

Krishnan introduced maid Valli to Kamala, who gave a smile.

“Vanakkamamma,” she said, with hands folded.

Kamala nodded to acknowledge her greeting.

She then helped them carry their luggage to the second floor. While Krishnan opened the front door of our home, Kamala noticed that at the entrance to her home was a small plastic sheet affixed to the floor on which was a permanent kolam. To the right hand side she saw a flight of steps leading to the terrace. On entering the home, they put their luggage in a corner of the hall. Krishnan then took Kamala round the compact two bedroom flat, ideal for a couple. Kamala mentally took in the layout of the flat so that she could plan well and settle down pretty fast.

Valli came out of the kitchen carrying two cups of hot coffee. After their coffee, they got down to unpack their luggage and neatly arrange the things - a place for everything and everything in its place. Krishnan turned round towards Kamala and found her staring at a book on hand. He raised his eyebrows to enquire what she was looking at intently. She showed him her book of kolams in which she had noted a good variety of patterns she had come across. He patted her back affectionately to appreciate her interest in kolam. After a few hours when the majority of the items had found a place, they took a break to visit a nearby shop to pick up some essential items. On the way back home they picked up a bag of kolam flour also.

Kamala woke up early next morning but found that Krishnan was already up and about. She opened the main door and with Krishnan’s help removed the plastic kolam sheet. 

 “Kamala, the residents use the stairs to go to the terrace frequently. So please ensure that the kolam is not too big to block the passage to the terrace.”

Kamala agreed and drew a small kolam for a start. She then got preoccupied with her domestic chores. In the evening when she opened the front door, she noticed that the kolam was in total disarray, with residents using the stairs walking all over the kolam.  Kamala was totally disheartened but continued for a week, making a fresh kolam every day. But each day she found the kolam met with the same fate. She knew she could not hold anybody responsible, as she was using the common area. At the end of the week, she could not tolerate what she considered as insolent behaviour of the residents in damaging her sacred kolam. Her mind worked furiously to retaliate. The next morning, Kamala drew a much bigger kolam encompassing a wide area and decided to wait for the consequences to follow.

After a few hours of waiting, she heard some voices talking excitedly at the door. Her curiosity overtook her and she opened the door quickly. To her surprise, she saw two smart girls in their teens standing in front of the kolam and admiring it.

“Hello. I am Kamala and I have come here recently,” she introduced herself to the two girls.

“Oh. You are Krishnan uncle’s wife. Welcome aunty,” they said in unison, with a giggle. The lanky girl introduced herself as Akruthi and the other shorter girl in a shy tone said she is Megha.

“We stay in the adjacent flats in the first floor,” said Akruthi. “We are on our way to the terrace and we saw your lovely kolam. We are taken in by the precision and creativity. It gives such a calming effect. We will visit you every day to enjoy your different kolams,” continued Akruthi. Megha silently nodded her assent.

“I have been doing this for the past one week and it is only to day I have drawn such a big kolam,” said Kamala. “Thanks for your appreciation.”

“We had seen only the kolam on a plastic sheet all these days,” replied Megha.

The pieces soon fell in place for Kamala. The residents in their hurry to reach the terrace failed to notice the hand drawn kolam of rice paste, being small and had inadvertently stepped on it the whole of last week. The big kolam on the other hand was very apparent and attractive enough to draw the attention of the residents and hence were cautious not to damage the kolam by stepping over it.

Krishnan was just then returning from an errand. Kamala turned to him and said, "As a form of retaliation, I had made a big kolam to challenge the residents without realising the real reason why the kolams of last week were disfigured. Now I understand. I have learned a very good lesson to analyse fully the reasons behind every action before coming to a conclusion”.

“Seeing the reactions of the two girls, I now realise that one of the scientific reasons for drawing a kolam at the entrance to a house is that it manifests into vibrations in the visitor’s mind, putting him at ease, making him comfortable and happy.”, said Krishnan.

He put an arm round Kamala and told her, “I am proud that you have retained our roots and culture. I am sure you will settle down here pretty fast.”


Image (c)


More by :  Sundar Rajan

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