Kolam expert Vijayalakshmi Mohan holds the Guinness Record for creating the largest rangoli pattern

The little girl walked about the streets of Srirangam at dawn to admire the kolams that glowed in front of the houses. In the dim early morning light, women unleashed their creativity on a small area with rice flour. Some of them were masterpieces that went unnoticed. The patterns amazed her — they stuck on in her mind, and years later, she went on to create a Guinness Record for the world’s largest rangoli pattern. And, Vijayalakshmi Mohan’s love for kolams started at the verandah of her home. “My mother Jayalakshmi Ammal drew kolams in front of our house at around 5.30 a.m. every day. I sat by and watched her fingers work.”

From ritual to art

The morning ritual trained her in the art of kolams. So much so that Vijayalakshmi could draw her own kolam by the age of five. When in college, she did kolams with 1,000 dots! Kolams were a part of Vijayalakshmi’s life wherever she went. When she settled in Singapore after getting married, her art made her popular in the country. “I was invited to schools, colleges, museums, libraries and women’s organisations to demonstrate kolams,” she says.

In 2003, Vijayalakshmi set a Guinness Record with her freehand kolam that measured 2,756 sq ft — the size of three badminton courts. “I worked nonstop from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. to finish it,” she says. The previous record was for a 30-ft by 30-ft kolam done by three women in London over three days.

Kolams have taken Vijayalakshmi to several countries, including the U.S., Australia and Dubai. Patterns out of gem stones on acrylic sheets, weather-proof designs… she has come up with modern variations to the kolam. “The materials I use are new, while the designs are traditional.” With over 5,000 designs in her kitty, Vijayalakshmi’s kolams will decorate the Serangoon Road in Singapore this Deepavali.

Vijayalakshmi believes that art can soothe the mind. She volunteers in homes for senior citizens, differently-abled and the mentally-challenged to teach her art. “It works. Art changes people. It gives them emotional release and makes them happy,” she says. “If I create a colour kolam when I have fever, I immediately feel better. Kolam gives me energy. It’s also good exercise.”

It’s science!

There is a science behind kolam. Every dot and curve is calculated; there is technique involved in drizzling the right amount of flour on the floor. “Traditionally, they were drawn using rice flour at dawn, when the air is pure and oxygen content is high. The flour attracts sparrows, ants and also earthworms,” she says. There is no limit to the number of ways one can improvise a design. Some women maintain books with their own intricate designs. Passed on from mother to daughter, these books carry a bit of history. Vijayalakshmi, for instance, has 300 of her mother’s designs, some of which she refers to even now.