Special Article: Rangoli–August 2019


    Smitha Nagaraja



    Smitha Nagaraja

    Rangoli is an integral part of Hindu tradition in India. Rangolis are designs drawn on the floor, in front of the house, pooja room, and walls etc., as  part of decoration. Apart from this purpose of decoration, there is some spiritual as well as scientific significance. Rangolis are no doubt designs, and can be of any beautiful form or shape, but they also are usually geometrical patterns or traditional designs. For instance, they can be symbols representing Gods and Goddesses or some yantra. Most of the designs have been passed on from one generation to the other. However, these days, it involves modern designs as well

    There are different ways of creating these designs. Some designs are created using dots first and lines connecting them later. The number of dots depends on the design which is planned and arranged to form a framework. These dots are then connected with straight and/or curved lines to form of a beautiful pattern.

     Traditionally, these designs were created using rice flour, either in dry form (powder), or wet. The wet form was made by mixing flour with water to a running consistency and used like paint. Red brick powder is used to draw outlines to these designs as a contrast, making the design stand out. And the colours used to fill these designs were also made using natural dyes. Nowadays the rice flour is replaced with a powder of some kind of stone (lime/white stone powder/marble powder) and is even sold in shops.


    Origins and History

    The word Rangoli is known to have been derived from the word “rangāvalu”, which, over a period of time, became “rangāvali” or rangāvalli and then to what we know to this day as “rangoli”. This, however, has a deep spiritual significance. The word Rangāvalu  is made of two Kannada words, Rangana and Kāvalu, That translates as follows : Ranga  is Paanduranga or Ranganaatha or Krishna, a form of Lord Vishnu and Kāvalu  means ‘to guard’. Thus, Rangaavalu means, being guarded by Lord Vishnu Himself.

    While it is called “rangoli” in general in most parts of the country, in Andhra Pradesh it is called “muggulu”, in Bengal it is called “ālpana”, in Bihar “aripana”, in Chhattisgarh as “chowkpurna”, in Karnataka it is called “hasey”, “rangavalli” or “rangoley”, in Kerala and Tamil Nadu it is called “kolam”, in Rajasthan it is referred as “maandna”, and so on. In Kerala, these designs are created using flowers, especially during the Onam festival and all auspicious occasions. There are rangoli designs representing each day of the week  and it is worshipped as a part of every day’s spiritual practice. During Deepaavali, a special rangoli is drawn, which is octagonal in shape  and  represents the “ashtadikpālakaru”. That is, ashta means eight, Dikku means directions. Paalakaru means those who protect. They are Demi Gods who protect the eight directions – East, West, North, South, North-East, North-West, South-East & South-West, respectively. After drawing this, they are worshipped, placing a ball of cow dung in the centre.


    The day of every Hindu household starts with the cleaning of the front yard of the house and decorating it by drawing rangoli. No auspicious occasions, rituals, and festivals are complete without big rangolis. Some festivals like Sankranti or Pongal, Deepaavali and so on have special designs, related to the festival specifically and they are filled with colours, thus making it look vibrant and filling the air with the joy of festivity. While the decorating aspect prevails, this has a spiritual and scientific significance as well. 

    The front yard used to be washed with cow dung, which would act as a disinfectant, thus providing threshold protection for the house. One more utility of washing with cowdung was, it kept away dust of the street,. This was significant because during those days there was no idea of concrete or cement or asphalt roads. The drawing of rangoli was a way of praying to a form of Lord Narayana to protect the household and safeguard it by warding off all evils. It is also believed that,during the  wee hours of the day, say, post midnight, all demonic activities happen and evil spirits hover over different regions. Thus, every morning, the tradition of cleaning the courtyard with cowdung water, which is considered holy in Hindu culture, and drawing new patterns is practiced. It is also a way of inviting prosperity and good luck, thus bringing around positive vibrations. The basic component used is normally white in colour, and it symbolises calmness, peace, serenity and tranquility. In Indian culture, it is a normal practice to feed not just humans, but also leave some food and water for birds, animals, etc. The first set of fresh food is usually offered to God and then to birds and animals and thereafter, partaken by the family. The idea of using edible (rice) flour to make these patterns was also in view of feeding insects and ants that crawl around.

    In some regions, they have the practice of placing three dots on the right bottom corner of the rangoli (Fig 1). The common belief is that it represents Rama, Seetha and Lakshmana. And some believe that it represents Thrijata, one of the demoness who worked in the kingdom of Ravana. She got that name as she had three plaited locks. Thrijata was the one who wished Ravana’s death and served Seetha so compassionately. She also protected her during those days when Seetha was in captivity. Hence, she earned the boon that she will be fondly remembered by posterity, and anyone adding those three dots would share their share of blessings with her and should they not do it, the entire blessings go to Thrijata.


    There are two types of rangolis. One is the Form. This  consists of lines and geometrical shapes. The other is Ornamental. This consists of symbols like conch, flowers, deities, etc.. Symmetry of the rangoli is very important. It is believed that it is a way of creating energy and channelising it.  And this energy is based on the design, the sharpness and precision. Hence, the choice of designs are of prime concern. Since the married ladies and young girls perform this chore, it also depicts the qualities like talent, patience and creativity of the lady of the house. The rangoli in front of the house shows how creative, systematic and meticulous she is in her life and how well she runs the household and keeps it well knit.


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