My mother draws a Kolam every morning at the front door. A ritual, that I remember her doing ever since my first memories. And I have rarely seen her miss a day so far.
It is hard to describe what a Kolam is in a language which cannot capture its cultural nuance. Kolam is an artistic pattern drawn on the floor usually in front of the house or near an altar. It is usually drawn with dry rice flour and sometimes with a powder made of a particular stone. In some parts of India it is called Rangoli.
Not sure about its origins, but it is quite prevalent in Tamil Nadu and some other parts of Southern India. In most homes it is a daily practice. The patterns can be elaborate or very small and simple. You walk on the streets in a residential area of a small town in Tamil Nadu and it will be a treat to see the women making these patterns early in the morning in their courtyard or just in front of their door. A sign that says we are up and ready for the day. A sign that says we welcome the new day in all its fullness.
My mother says she started drawing Kolam in front of her village temple when she was about 5 or 6 years old. She has continued this wherever we have lived. It does not matter how much space she has available: a small home with a front yard made of mud or a house where we stepped out onto a slab of granite or now that she lives with me, in a Mumbai high rise apartment where there is probably only two square feet of space in the common lobby, she finds place for the Kolam.
Every morning I wake up and when I open the door I see these attractive patterns. It is a beautiful art. Every day there is something completely new. Perfect lines and curves, that are drawn free hand. One has to see it to believe the precision of those lines and curves, the absolute symmetry in the overall drawing and the delightful little details added in places to enhance the effect. Everyone briefly stops to admire the pattern on the floor- from our milkman to the paperwala, to all the multitude of maids who visit, and our 3 year old neighbour who is a great admirer- they pause to look at it. She is invited to do her special large free hand kolams at events and weddings by people who know her well.
While there are templates for Kolam, my mother uses none of those; they are totally from her imagination. I see this as something she does to center herself for the day. A few moments of absolute creative stillness when all her being is focused on the art she is creating. When I see her doing this, I can see that she is in a zone, completely absorbed and away in her own world for those moments. I ask her how she can do this every single day, early in the morning without fail and every single day create such beautiful pattern. And she shyly says that she has been doing this for nearly 60 years and it just happens. No thinking about it or planning for it.
For all the time and effort she spends on the Kolam every morning, she has no attachment to this artistic expression. Once it is created it belongs to the universe. The art has no permanency. On most days it has been walked over by someone unmindful, or just the elements of nature like the breeze and rain will wash it away. It is cleaned away. And next morning a new expression takes form, with just the same depth and intent. A new manifestation.
Rituals are repetitive acts that help what we do become part of our being. Rituals when done intentionally and with mindfulness, move the person from the physical realm to the spirit realm. When the practice truly becomes part of the being, one is detached from the result of that action. Doing becomes the expression of the beauty of the inner space. It may appear meaningless to the modern rational mind, but for someone who follows it and does it with intent, it is a few minutes of mindfulness, a few minutes to center oneself, a creative moment that lingers on and brings joy through the day to oneself and to others.