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A platter of love

The `aarti' plates decorated by the Gujarati women are beautiful and innovative. PRATIMA ASHER on the craft that the community women excel in.

AN IMMIGRANT community brings along with them a whole way of life. Customs, ideas, food habits native to their way of living allows them to remain in touch with their roots as well as provide a sense of identity.

Gujarati women in Kochi have for the last few years reintroduced , a decorative art which is very much a part of their native culture. This is the decoration of `aarti thals' or plates in which the sacred flame is offered to deities at religious ceremonies.

Ready-to-use `aarti' vessels have always been available. They may be plain or intricately made with a variety of designs and multiple sections capable of producing patterns of the small flame. The offering of the `aarti' at religious ceremonies can be an awe-inspiring spectacle and it is not surprising that so much care is lavished over it. Picking up their cue from those back home, where `aartis' in many instances are offered in large metal plates, Gujarati ladies have been keen to recreate a similar mood here. They have taken to the art of decorating `aarti' plates in a big way. Community associations hold regular competitions in this art and any religious function provides for many, an opportunity to display their skills.

Generally, all the decorations are homemade. They can range from simple geometric designs drawn on a plate with coloured powder on which a regular `aarti' vessel or lamp is placed to elaborate often glittering arrangements.

All kinds of materials are used to adorn the plate: snippets of `zari' cloth, mirrors, tinsel, paper cut outs, home made clay figurines, nutshells, grains, pictures drawn or painted with different coloured substances depicting favourite deities and flowers, leaves and so on... .

Sometimes materials may be carefully treasured objects brought from back home.

Sneha Negandhi, for instance suggests that one can make beautiful decorations from the thin glass tubes, which adorned many a doorway back home, some years ago. Motifs may also be typically Gujarati like the `khumbh', which Sneha has worked into one of her pieces. She has also taken to making decorations on a cardboard fitted on to a plate. When not in use, the reusable decoration can be wrapped in cellophane and be used as a showpiece or a bit of memorabilia.

All her decorations are generally made from waste materials, says Savita Palicha. " No expense of any kind is involved." One only needs a good imagination. One can even dispense with the expense of buying glue by using a trick she learnt from her mother-in-law. She washes a little gram flour with milk and adds a pinch of ant repellent powder to make her own pest free glue. She often discusses the `aarti' decorations with her husband Ramesh who now encourages her to use motifs, which are also symbolic. An `aarti' that she has decorated with peacock drawing is an example. The peacock feather is associated with Krishna and hence the motif befits the `aarti', which may be offered to this deity. "After all," says Ramesh, "offering is full of symbolism. The flame itself is symbolic. One notices that it rises upward and signifies that we must rise from ignorance to knowledge. It also signifies the burning of our egoistic nature. A single lamp gives light enough to destroy the darkness of ignorance." He also mentions that the substance used for creating the `aarti' fire like pure ghee or camphor have purifying effect as well. Camphor, it is believed drives away evil spirits.

" Decorations are an expression of the beauty of feelings," he concludes and what better way to express one's feelings than to interpret them through an `aarti' offering that is worthy of the Gods.

So the aarti-thals get more and more artistic and imaginative.

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