Diwali Festival and Threshold Art
Rice flour (denser than wheat flour; sold at Indian food markets), pencils, paper, tea candles, lighters; Artwork: Photos of Indian threshold floor and wall paintings (see suggested resources and websites below); Map of India (above); Worksheet (see “Downloads” above): Threshold Art: Around the Dots Designs and Template of Dots: Four Points Forming a Square; Videos: Tamil Nadu Kolams and Diwali
Throughout the subcontinent of India, women of all ages, castes, and professions, perform the traditional art of threshold painting. It is known as muggu in Andhra Pradesh; rangoli in Maharashtra and Gujarat; chowk purana in Uttar Pradesh; mandana in Rajasthan; alpana in Bengal; chita in Orissa; and kalam in Tamil Nadu. Although the styles of design and frequency with which it is painted vary from region to region, the symbolic meaning of this art form is the same: it links Hindu women to the goddess Lakshmi whom they invite to depart her heavenly abode and rest momentarily at their thresholds upon an intricate rice flour diagram. In this manner, the Goddess brings good fortune, enveloping the home in an auspicious sphere of protection.
In a variety of ways, threshold art reflects the Hindu concept of the interconnectedness of the universe. This is symbolized even in the use of rice flour as an artistic medium. It is said that the kolam is the “feeder of a thousand souls” providing nourishment to the smallest of insects throughout the day. Also central to Hinduism is the experiential act of devotion. The painting of a kolam is correspondingly devotional. It is an act of creation, in which ones personal relationship with the gods is most important. For in a fleeting moment the creation will disappear, vividly remaining only in the memory of the one who created it.
- Locate India on a map. Explain to students that India is geographically and culturally diverse; each region exemplifying its own unique set of styles and customs.
- Have students perform research on the Hindu belief system and how the gods are honored through acts of devotion such as threshold painting. Examine how Hindu worship is experiential: the practitioner uses touch, chants, incense, vibrant colors, and movement to invoke the gods.
- Have students perform research on the harvest festival of Diwali (lit. “row of lights”), a three-night celebration in honor of the goddess Lakshmi, that takes place throughout India in October-November.
- Show students the videos Tamil Nadu Kolams and/or Diwali, and other examples of threshold designs. Explain to students how Hindu women create intricate threshold art to welcome the goddess Lakshmi into their home. Describe how during Diwali, these elaborate designs are illuminated with ghee (clarified butter) filled lamps—the twinkling lights guiding the goddess into the home. In Tamil Nadu, threshold art is called kolam and is created using a template of dots around which rice flour is applied to from a complex lace-like labyrinth.
- Give students the worksheet Threshold Art: Around the Dot Designs and Template of Dots: Four Points Forming a Square
- On a piece of paper, practice drawing kolam diagrams starting from a basic grid of 3 lines and 3 dots. As they become more familiar with the process, have them try drawing more involved patterns by gradually increasing the number of lines and dots.
- Work in teams to create a large kolam design.
- Make photocopies of the chosen design for each team member.
- Have each team choose a large area outside to paint their kolam.
- Distribute small cans filled with rice flour.
- Using the rice flour, create a grid of dots evenly spaced (at least 2 feet between dots) on the ground.
- Encourage one student to act as the director to guide others in the painting process. Begin painting with the rice flour around the grid of dots. Tip: Gently swinging the forearm in a back-and-forth motion about a foot above the ground while allowing the rice to fall gradually from the fingers creates an even white line.
- Once the kalam is complete, light the tea candles and place them strategically throughout the diagram.
- Take pictures of the candle lit kolams.
Interactive Kolam: www.i-kolam.com
Kolam, in website on Dr. Gift Siromoney: www.cmi.ac.in/gift/Kolam.htm
Archana, The Language of Symbols: A Project on South Indian Ritual Decorations of a Semi-Permanent Nature. India: Crafts Council of India, 1980.
Eck, Diana. Banaras. City of Light. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
Huyler, Stephen P., Painted Prayers: Women’s Art in Village India. New York: Rizzoli, 1994.
Mahapatra, Padmavati. Chita. Orissa: Gyanajuga Publications,1999.
Nagarajan, Vijaya Rettakudi. Hosting the Divine: The Kolam as Ritual, Art, and Ecology in Tamil Nadu, India. Manuscript UCB, 1998.
Saxena, Jogendra. Mandana, the Folk Art of Rajasthan. India: Crafts Museum, 1985.