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Chennai Journal
Sunday, August 28, 2005
 
Rangoli

The picture shown here is typical Rangoli or, as it's called by Tamil speakers, Kolam. Rangoli is a daily ritual of Hindu women, a kind of artistic prayer to begin the day. These drawings are seen in front of houses, temples, and even places of work--the latter perhaps explained by the fact that Rangoli are supposed to entice Lakshimi, the Goddess of prosperity and well-being. At certain times, Rangoli may also bring luck to unmarried women in finding a spouse, and special designs are done for Hindu festivals.

Rangoli designs are usually flowers or symbols---this picture I took in our neighborhood shows a Star of David, but it's highly unlikely that the woman of this house is Jewish (a bit jarring, but you may as easily see a swastika as a decoration here). Rangoli are made with white or dyed, very finely ground rice powder, and the drawing is usually followed by quiet prayers of the morning in special pooja, or prayer, room in the house. Rangoli designs are handed down generation to generation, and new ones or creative variations to the traditional designs also printed in magazines. There are certain regional variations within India--use of colors, for example, or designs that are characteristic of a particular locale. Rangoli may even form the basis of an employee contest, such as we ran at our Business Service Center earlier this year.

This custom is also intricately tied to the Hindu respect for all life. As the day goes by, the Rangoli itself is food for the tiny creatures such as ants that coinhabit our human space. But like everywhere else, modern convenience has come in to offer an alternative to tradition---I've read that the too-busy housewife can now buy "stick on Rangoli" !
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