Rangolis: A Key Element of Diwali

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Diwali - the festival of lights, a day that is lit up with light. On the morning of Diwali, every child eagerly awaits the sundown when they can burst crackers and light diyas with friends and family. When we speak of Diwali, the first images that appear in our mind’s eye are the diyas, lanterns and crackers that have given Diwali its sobriquet. However, a very overlooked aspect of Diwali is the rangoli. A brightly coloured design made of powders or the occasional flowers that brings happiness and joy to all who see it.

Diwali, as we all know is celebrated to symbolise the victory of good over evil. On this day, we also offer prayers to the goddess Lakshmi and ask to be blessed in the form of wealth and prosperity. The rangoli is not only meant to welcome the visiting guests but also the goddess herself.

The term ‘rangoli’ is believed to have been derived from the Sanskrit words ‘rang’ which means ‘colour’ and ‘avali’ which is ‘line’. Therefore, the word rangoli essentially means ‘line of colours’ or ‘row of colours’.

Rangoli vary greatly in their size, depending on personal preference and availability of space. They are often drawn at the entrance of the house or after the gates. In most cases, they are no bigger than a regular house mat which is perfect for those who live in cities and apartment complexes where there is limited space. On the other hand, if you visit a house in a village with a large plot of land, there is a chance you may see a rangoli which takes up more than half the courtyard, starting from the gates till the doorstep.

There are three very important elements to a rangoli that make it what it is.

The first element, which is also the most important element is that the rangoli must be colourful. As mentioned time and time again, the purpose of the rangoli is to be welcoming and to spread positivity. And what better way is there to go about it than with bright, saturated colours. Along with the colours, there are many auspicious symbols which play a prime role in the design. They usually include lotus flowers, birds like parrots, peacocks, swans, mangos, their leaves, human figures and various foliage. The traditional designs of a Diwali rangoli include the diya (obviously), Lord Ganesha, Goddess Lakshmi and various flowers and birds of India.

The second important key element is the media used to make the design. The materials are easily found everywhere in every household, which is one of the reasons that the art of rangoli making is practised throughout the country, by all classes. Some of the more widely used ingredients are dried powder made from leaves, dry or wet rice powder, coloured salt, powdered dyes, charcoal, wet kaolin clay paste, sawdust and many many more. Notice that I have mentioned both wet and dry ingredients, this is because a rangoli can be drawn or painted on. Rangolis drawn with dry ingredients tend to be a little less complicated and more simplistic. Painted rangolis on the other hand are much more intricate and require a lot of patience and practise.

The third essential element is the background. The background of a rangoli is usually a clean floor or a blank wall. The important thing is that wherever the rangoli is made, it has to be clean. The women in the family will wake up early and wipe and clean the area where the rangoli has to be made. Rangoli can, in essence, be made anywhere, in the courtyard, in the corner of the room, in the middle of the hallway, at the entrance of the door or even on the terrace.

Since rangoli designs are quite freestyle, there are many ways one can go about actually making said rangoli. Usually, one will draw a single dot as a centre using a white coloured material - be it salt, chalk, sand, or natural white powders, and then strategically place more dots around the centre creating a grid which will then take the shape of a circle, a square or a hexagon depending on the state and choices of the maker. With the help of the grid, the artist creates an outline, turning the initially simple geometric design into an intricate and beautiful pattern. Then using one’s finger or other similar shaped structures like q-tips and or old ball pens, images of flowers, leaves or other patterns can be drawn. Motifs like leaves and flowers are common, while more complex ones like peacocks, icons and landscape are less common but by no means rare. In most cases, the rangoli is symmetrical since there is just something so beautiful about symmetrical designs.

Once the outline is done, the artist can then choose to colour in the rangoli using paint, dyes, salt etc. One may also use seeds, flowers, leaves, spice or grains for a more lifelike hue. Modern materials like paints, fabrics, crayon dust (grate your younger siblings unused crayons and don’t tell them) or artificial colours which give much brighter colours than the natural materials have also become common.

While traditional rangoli patterns are still loved and enjoyed by all, the younger generation is now taking the art into their own hands and shaping it to their personal preferences. Rangolis nowadays stray from the traditional geometric patterns, the modern rangoli is most often inspired by nature and at times takes the form of abstract art. Many people also draw a rangoli depicting scenes from the Ramayana or the Mahabharata or even simple landscapes.

Indians who have emigrated to other countries have spread the word of this art form to the rest of the world and also bring back new methods and techniques to go about drawing a rangoli. The designs themselves become varied and also become hybrids between many art styles.

The rangoli is a beautiful, artistic masterpiece. The tradition has passed down from generation to generation of Indians, keeping both the art and the tradition alive. Rangoli shows strength and generosity. All in all, the design and complexity of a rangoli does not matter. What really matters is the love, effort and time spent with one’s family when making the rangoli. Diwali is more or less incomplete without a rangoli. So spend time with your family and enjoy this auspicious tradition in all its splendour.



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