Painted prayers of India

My art brings to life on canvas ancient symbols and practices and informs viewers of their meaning, beauty, and relevance in today’s world . One such practice is painting Kolam (Tamil word) in front of entrances to homes in India. Women in Southern India decorate the ground in front of their homes with these intricate designs. The entrances to homes and their Pooja room (a dedicated space in the home for all the Hindu gods and for prayers) are cleaned everyday and decorated by women. They use rice flour and natural color powders to paint kolam.

When I was young, I had watched my mother, grandmother, aunts and their household helpers practice this art every single day with dedication and love. This inspired me to paint Kolam on canvas. The vibrant hues you see on the canvas for these kolams are inspired by the silk and cotton textiles worn by women who practice this art. Two of my canvases have parts of a cotton saree or podavai (Tamil word) worn by my mother. The casualness of the wrapping represents the informality with which it is practiced daily.  My art process for this series is a homage to all women whose lives in India  are dedicated mostly to family and God, and very rarely to themselves.

The women use dots or small circles as a grid and a starting point for these designs. The dots are laid out symmetrically and designs evolve through practice, observation, and for the more experienced through innovation. The designs vary depending on what is being celebrated during the month in the Hindu calendar. This ephemeral practice is earth friendly because ants and birds eat the rice flour during the day. The kolam at the entrance of homes welcomes one and all to the home, invokes Lakshmi, Hindu goddess of prosperity, and creates a positive, happy feeling around the neighborhood. Sometimes called the ‘Painted Prayers of India’ , the Kolam embodies the dedication, spirituality, strength, patience, and resilience of the Indian woman who holds different generations of a family together under one roof. This ancient tradition has been handed down through generations and there is no written history of its origins or its evolution. The simplicity that is inherent in the nature of this art seems to still attract young and new practitioners like me. The interpretation and its meaning is wide open just like any other art form.