Deepavali is the time of year when we’ll start seeing the different variations of kolam popping up in and around the Klang Valley – but how much do you really know about them: what do they symbolise to Hindus, where do they come from and is it more than just a Deepavali tradition? Here’s a quick roundup of fun facts about these colourful pieces of art.
It's a sign of generosity
In the olden days, the motifs were drawn in rice flour or made with edible grains for ants, birds or other small creatures. This is in line with Hindu teachings that instruct its followers to show charity and be generous, even to little creatures. Eventually, coloured rice – from colourings or dyes – replaced the rice flour and grains.
And also an invitation to prosperity
Hindus believe that the kolam welcomes Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of Prosperity into the home. That’s why the decorative rice motif is usually drawn in front of the house. Plus, it’s always a nice sight that welcomes visitors to Deepavali open houses.
It's not just a Deepavali tradition
It really just isn’t limited to Deepavali celebrations. The kolam also makes an appearance during other festivals like the harvest festival of Ponggal (January) and the Hindu festival of Onam (between August and September).
It can be a family bonding activity
Drawing of the kolam was traditionally done by the women of the household as it was considered their responsibility to maintain household affairs. Nowadays, everyone participates in the annual affair to help lighten the pressure of completing the design (just imagine the amount of time, patience and attention to detail needed) on the eve of Deepavali.
Kolam also goes by another name
The term ‘kolam’ – which means ‘beauty’ – is typically used in the southern parts of India and they are drawn with geometric patterns of dots, lines and curves. Further up north, they’re known as ‘rangoli’ and take the form of flowers and Hindu auspicious animals, usually enhanced with oil lamps.
There are kolam pros
Professional kolam artists like Ruben Prakash – director of S4SKY Rangoli Kolam Malaysia – create massive pieces (among his impressive works are the 22’ x 15’ kolam in Publika and 100’ x 12’ kolam in Paradigm Mall). Many of them also offer their expertise for private events like weddings or parties. Meanwhile, for us every day folk who want to try making our own kolam, there are ready-made sticker kolam decorations at Indian stores in Brickfields and Klang.
Malaysia's biggest kolam
If you thought those were big, consider some of the record-breaking ones that have entered the Malaysia Book of Records. In August 2007, approximately 1,700 students and 100 teachers from SMK Methodist ACS Ipoh created the country’s largest kolam (which measured 73.3m by 41.3m) forming the shape of the Malaysian flag in conjunction with our country’s 50th year of independence. And this year, Penang’s Golden Sands Resort earned a spot in the record book with the largest floating kolam – a peacock and lotus kolam that measured 6,867 sq ft, made with 87 bags of dry coconut flakes, 37.9kg of sticker glue and 5,000 bulbs of fresh pompom chrysanthemums. It took over 100 volunteers ten consecutive days to complete.