It is brahmamuhurtham time. A lady steps out of her house with a bucket of water and some kolam powder in a shining tiffin box. Tucking in her tummy she bends over to create a profusion of dots and joins them with geometric precision by letting the rice powder run between her nimble fingers. Peacocks, lotus and circles along with floral patterns emerge as the finishing piece.
She arches her aching back after nearly an hour and smiles with satisfaction as she gives a final look at her creation. Kolam, which is generally seen adorning the doorsteps of every traditional home, has its own significance. The idea behind it is to feed ants and when a lump of cow dung is placed at its centre (with a pumpkin flower), it is a symbol of fertility.
It is not just this. There are umpteen advantages offered by this art, says Gayathri Sankaranarayanan, who is at present doing a research in this field. “The air that you breathe in and out, while tracing a kolam in the wee hours of morning, is said to rejuvenate you with ozone that is said to be abundant at that time. The way you do it with your body bend forward activates the Mooladara chakra in your hip region,” says Gayathri.
Explaining about it further, Gayathri says that is not just a visual art. The idea has to originate in the brain, your eyes have to dart in all directions, your fingers must move to trace the design, you must be able to bend well in your hip region and while giving finishing touches you press the ground with your toes.
“From head to foot all the parts are given an exercise and so it is akin to yoga. While only the doer can appreciate the benefit of yoga, the onlookers too can appreciate the beauty of a kolam.”
In villages, Kolams send out messages. There are specific kolams for each festival such as Rathasapthami, Nagapanchami and so on. They are also indicators of happenings in a house. When there is a birth, a cradle kolam adorns the doorsteps and is left bare in case of a death. Gayathri asserts that whether it is a free hand one or the one which is joined by dots, a kolam improves concentration, focus, creativity and an idea of symmetry.
Linking it with music, she says that the seven basic features or symbols in a kolam — bindu, rekha, poorna vardhool, ardhavardhool, sarpa rekha and vardhani are analogous to the seven swaras in music. “Kolams can be chosen appropriately to suit swara excercises, alankarams, githams and even varnams.”
The ‘Kalpita swarams' can be learnt through this art and a music teacher can use it to teach the exact place of each swara.
Through kolam, Gayathri has grouped the suddha madyama ragas and the pradhimadhyama ragas, as two halves of a circle. To bring in the ri, ga, differences, she has further divided the half circle into six. On the periphery small lines drawn show the division of da and ni. The kola chakra actually brings out the essence of the entire mela karta ragas.
Therapy for special children
Gayathri has also used the same kolam-music combo as a therapy for special children. Does it work? It works fine, she claims. Children at Lotus Foundation, Special school for autistic children, Besant Nagar, simply love her classes. They start with just dumping small mound of the kolamaavu. Then, with their forefinger, they spread the powder around to create circles and flowers.
For these kids doing it repeatedly itself is an exercise and creates a sense of achievement. Feeling the flour in their hands, singing the swaras, sequencing and joining the dots improve their focus and concentration. She firmly believes that it improves their internal rhythm and disciplines their mind. This in turn will definitely help to develop their writing and mathematical abilities and their learning curve in toto. Gayathri Sankaranarayanan stays at 33/12, C.V. Raman Road, Alwarpet. Ph: 98401 18711.
Drawing kolams is akin to yoga and it acts as a therapy for special children.