The Art and Ritual of Rangoli

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Making ornate level creation tin beryllium a celebratory enactment for festivals similar Diwali and a meditative practice.

Jugnu Verma making rangoli extracurricular  her location  successful  South Carolina.
Credit...Gabriela Bhaskar/The New York Times

Anna P. Kambhampaty

Nov. 4, 2021, 3:00 a.m. ET

Every twelvemonth astir this time, much than a cardinal radical worldwide observe Diwali, the festival of lights, with lukewarm household meals, bursting fireworks, glowing lamps and an ornate past Indian people creation known arsenic rangoli.

These geometric patterns, spiritual symbols and floral designs are drawn connected the level of one’s home, often utilizing chalk and colorful powders, arsenic a mode to ward disconnected evil spirits and invited the bully religion of gods and goddesses. The connection “rangoli” is derived from the Sanskrit connection “rangavalli” and astir translates to “rows of colors,” a fitting representation for Diwali’s connection of airy conquering darkness.

“The Christmas histrion is to Christmas arsenic rangoli is to Diwali,” Jugnu Verma, an creator and arts pedagogue successful Columbia, S.C., said successful a caller telephone interview. “It’s incomplete without it.”

While making rangoli tin beryllium celebratory, it is besides a regular ritual for galore women successful India and passim the diaspora — a contented that grounds them successful challenging times. Ms. Verma, 40, who has been making rangoli for 3 decades, said the absorption required to marque rangoli “helps make meditative power.”

She was calved successful Bihar, India, wherever her parent created a caller rangoli each time extracurricular their home, and moved to the United States erstwhile she was 27. “It was a precise hard time,” Ms. Verma said. “I was far, acold distant from my household for the archetypal time.” She often felt mislaid and lonely.

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Credit...Gabriela Bhaskar/The New York Times

That changed erstwhile a person invited her to marque henna tattoos and rangoli for a taste lawsuit astatine the section library. The acquisition helped Ms. Verma link with her caller community. “I didn’t cognize galore radical here, but erstwhile they saw my art, they wanted to cognize more,” she said.

Ms. Verma often makes rangoli utilizing edible materials specified arsenic atom flour, turmeric and lentils, truthful that immoderate creatures that walk her doorstep tin feast connected her creation. It’s OK if her designs are eaten by insects, trampled implicit by visitors, whisked distant by upwind oregon washed distant by rain. That impermanence is portion of the form’s beauty.

This idea, of feeding arsenic galore souls arsenic imaginable during the day, pervades the tradition, though the benignant of rangoli tin alteration passim India. The kolam, successful Tamil Nadu, is traditionally made with achromatic atom flour. Each enactment starts with a grid of dots, which are past connected with assorted patterns of lines and curves. The effect is simply a highly computational drawing.

“Four-hundred cardinal Hindu women bash immoderate signifier of this benignant of creation oregon ritual sometime during the year,” said Vijaya Nagarajan, the author of a publication connected the kolam and an subordinate prof of spiritual studies astatine the University of San Francisco.

Though I’d ever noticed successful my ain household that the ritual was done lone by the women of the household, I realized done conversations with Ms. Nagarajan that it is astir universally intimately tied to pistillate experience. In conducting probe for her book, Ms. Nagarajan spent clip successful Madurai, a metropolis successful Tamil Nadu, wherever she spoke with radical whose sex expressions were fluid. “They made the kolam erstwhile they woke up successful the greeting and felt similar a woman,” she said. “They would formal successful their sari, enactment the jasmine flowers successful their hair, braid their hairsbreadth and marque the kolam. It’s an denotation of gender, adjacent if the sex is fluid.”

In caller years, kolam artists person adopted the multicolor contented of the rangoli — though the alteration has been divisive, particularly astatine kolam competitions successful India. “If the judges were much traditional, elder judges, the accepted kolam was the best, astir aesthetic,” Ms. Nagarajan told me. “But if they were younger women, they would accidental the rangoli was better, reflecting the fascination with colour and changing notions of beauty.”

Srividya Vallurupalli, 46, a bundle technologist successful Danville, Calif., experienced that displacement firsthand. “When my ma was increasing up, it was lone done with achromatic powder,” she said. “In our generation, the colors got added.”

Once passed down done generations of Indian women, typically from parent to daughter, the creation of rangoli is present the taxable of countless tutorials connected societal media. Instagrammers specified arsenic Kanchan Kauthale, 36, who lives successful Maharashtra, station step-by-step photos of their rangoli creations. On TikTok, rangoli videos instrumentality the spectator from elemental outline to bold signifier astatine a mesmerizing speed; together, posts tagged #rangoli person much than 840 cardinal views.

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Credit...Gabriela Bhaskar/The New York Times

At the aforesaid time, the ritual has go little and little of a regular practice. “People are utilizing paints truthful that they don’t person to enactment the rangoli each time successful beforehand of the house. It tin past for astatine slightest a fewer months to a year,” Ms. Vallurupalli said, dissimilar accepted rangoli, which is mostly astatine the volition of the elements.

In the wintertime of this year, erstwhile the United States was starting to spot a betterment from the coronavirus pandemic, India was entering different deadly wave. There person been much than 34 cardinal reported cases successful the country, and estimates person enactment the death toll astir 4 million.

“In India, with each the radical dying and dealing with this problem, you conscionable pray,” Ms. Verma said. “Making rangoli is the aforesaid arsenic praying.”

In the midst of the crisis, my gramps connected my father’s broadside died successful Vijayawada. He didn’t dice from Covid-19, but the question restrictions and wellness fears made it intolerable to spot him. No 1 successful my contiguous household could beryllium determination to perceive his past words oregon adjacent be the funeral. In lieu of much accepted rites, we held a tiny ceremonial astatine our location successful Syracuse, N.Y.

Anyone who’s been to Central New York successful the wintertime knows that snowfall is simply a changeless of the season. So alternatively than making our rangoli outside, my grandma and I constructed 1 astatine the basal of our fireplace, pursuing a YouTube tutorial and gridding our plan with Crayola chalk. The last plan was a enactment of achromatic flowers surrounded with greenish detailing. The rangoli is inactive determination today.

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