The Art and Ritual of Rangoli

“Four hundred million Hindu women practice some form of this kind of art or ritual during the year,” said Vijaya Nagarajan, the author of...

“Four hundred million Hindu women practice some form of this kind of art or ritual during the year,” said Vijaya Nagarajan, the author of a book on kolam and associate professor of religious studies at the University of San Francisco.

Although I have always noticed in my own family that the ritual is only performed by the housewives, I have realized through conversations with Ms. Nagarajan that it is almost universally closely related to the female experience. While conducting research for her book, Ms. Nagarajan spent time in Madurai, a town in Tamil Nadu, where she spoke with people whose gender expressions were fluid. “They did the kolam when they woke up in the morning and felt like a woman,” she said. “They would dress in their sari, put the jasmine flowers in their hair, braid their hair and make the kolam. It’s an indication of the genre, even though the genre is fluid.

In recent years, kolam artists have embraced the multicolored tradition of rangoli – although the change has been divisive, especially during kolam competitions in India. “If the judges were more traditional, older judges, the traditional kolam was the best, the most aesthetic,” Ms. Nagarajan told me. “But if they were younger women, they would say rangoli is better, reflecting fascination with color and changing notions of beauty.”

Srividya Vallurupalli, 46, a software engineer in Danville, Calif., Experienced this change firsthand. “When my mother was growing up, it was done only with white powder,” she said. “In our generation, colors have been added.

Once passed down through generations of Indian women, usually from mother to daughter, the art of rangoli is now the subject of countless tutorials on social networks. Instagrammers such as Kanchan Kauthale, 36, who lives in Maharashtra, post step-by-step photos of their rangoli creations. On TikTok, rangoli videos take the viewer from a simple outline to a bold pattern at fascinating speed; set tagged messages #rangoli have over 840 million views.

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The Art and Ritual of Rangoli
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