For visitors to the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple in the last four days, it was hard to walk past a group of women diligently drawing beautiful ‘kolams’ in different parts of the temple premises without stopping to look at the beautiful designs.
As many as 20 women have drawn 50 ‘kolams’ this year. This practice has been in place for over 35 years now. Women get together before Navarathri to adorn the temple with ‘kolams.’
Leela Venkatraman, the senior-most member of the group, has been their teacher. “The unique idea of adorning the temple with ‘kolams’ was initiated by my late friend Lalitha Shankar in 1979. “We both learnt how to draw ‘kolam’ from our teacher Master Savithambiras,” said septuagenarian Leela.
On their unconventional patterns, Ms. Leela said, “We use a combination of two columns and three rows of dots and there are only seven designs possible from this permutation. We use a number of these combinations and create big designs. This method was put into practice by our master after almost 20 years of research,” she said.
Making a distinction between the traditional ‘kolam’ patterns and rangoli designs, Vinodhini Arun Shankar, who comes from Chennai every year to be a part of this team, said,
“There is a lot of precision involved in the work. When we pick a spot to draw the ‘kolam,’ we make sure that the centre is right and use tracing paper to draw dots that are equidistant from each other.”
A couple of years back, the same group, but with around 50 members, managed to draw nearly 1 lakh ‘kolams’ in a short span of six days. “We haven’t drawn as many designs this year since the number of members willing to participate is steadily dwindling,” rued Ms. Vinodhini.
“We hope that more youngsters will take interest and learn our methods. It is an extremely creative and challenging exercise,” she asserted. The women prefer paint over ‘kolam’ powder. “What we draw before Navarathri stays on for a year. We paint over some of the designs of the previous year as well or come up with new ones depending on the number of members in the group” said Ms. Leela while pointing to a new ‘kolam’ depicting a Veena that has been strategically drawn in front of the Saraswathy idol in the temple.
The group calls this yearly activity an ‘enjoyable holiday’ from their routine. ’“We all look forward to these four days every year. We interact with each other and work together and consider it a blessing to be inside the temple for 15 hours a day,” said Valli. T, a resident of Sholavandan, who has been a part of this activity for the past 25 years.
The temple authorities have extended support for this yearly initiative. “In the last two years, the authorities have been extremely cooperative and have offered to cordon off places where there are freshly-painted ‘kolams.’ The public too have not disrupted our designs and tourists have often stopped to praise and ask us about our designs,” says Ms. Vinodhini.