Symbols and signs, take two

Last week I wrote about these drawings in front of houses and buildings I see around in Chennai.  I didn’t know what they were called at the time but now I know they are called “kolam.”  As I wrote before, they are drawn by women to bring good fortune and prosperity to their household.  I was walking home one afternoon and got a chance to watch a woman actually working on one.  It looked as if she had just washed the front of her house and she was about to start working on her kolam.  she didn’t speak any English but when I took out my camera and gestured to her if it was OK for me to take some photos, she gave me a nice big smile.  So I squatted down next to her, got comfortable, and watched.

A Tamil lady working on her kolam

She was wearing a sari and barefoot; she held a small plastic container filled with white powder in her left hand.  She took a small pinch of the white powder and made short thin lines on the ground, spacing them out evenly.  These lines became her place markers for the design she had in mind and they helped her make the drawing symmetrical.  Other than these small markings she didn’t refer to anything else as she worked.  She clearly had a plan already worked out ahead of time because from there, she moved quickly.  She flowed freely, her movements coming one after the other.  A pinch of powder, her fingers gliding to draw lines and loops, hovering an inch above the ground.  He small feet danced around to avoid the freshly drawn design and moved effortlessly to the next section of the drawing.  I barely blinked because her speed was shockingly fast.  The evenness of the lines and how smoothly she worked…  Within seconds the full shape of her design appeared in front of my eyes.  She was one focused artist!

Since that afternoon I came across a few other ladies working on their kolams in the morning.  The mystery behind these pretty white drawings has been solved for me but I have yet to see who draws the kolam in front of my apartment building.  I find a new kolam everyday when I walk out of my building.  Always fresh, always a new design.  I know that if I get outside a few minutes earlier I will probably see the lady responsible for it but I think I’ll just leave it as is.  I’d like to think that it’s a sweet fairy that leaves me a kind wish for a good day while I’m asleep.  It certainly makes me smile each morning as I start my day.

Kolam up close

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