Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Magnificent obsessions and the art of kolam in southern India

Laying a kolam © Caroline Fraser

I was a bit shaken up by the sights of southern India, and it took me a while to regain my equilibrium.

I vowed never to return. 

Always a mistake...

For I am already wishing I had taken more photos at Marina Beach in Chennai. A week would do it.

And having just tidied the 'holiday' drawer it seems only right to find a use for the 6 bottles of suncream and 12 bottles of insect repellant.

Say no more.  Magnificent obsessions was the subject of a previous post.

I live with a man who doesn't like being bitten. And I don't want to get skin cancer......


Amongst the dirt and noise of Chennai and Pondicherry were small oases of calm and cleanliness on the pavements outside Hindu homes.

Kolam © Caroline Fraser

Kolam is a Hindu practice; a geometrical drawing composed of curved loops drawn around a pattern of dots. 

Every morning in Tamil Nadu, Southern India, women draw kolams on the ground with white rice flour. 
Through the day, the drawings get walked on, washed out in the rain, and covered with debris blown onto them. 

New ones are made every morning. As I walked out before breakfast fresh ones were being laid.

Kolam © Caroline Fraser

Each morning before sunrise, the floor of the owners' house, or where ever the Kolam may be, is cleaned with water and the muddy floor swept well to create an even surface, to which the flour of chalk will better adhere.

Traditionally they were drawn with coarse rice flour to invite birds and ants, as a sign to welcome all into the home, not least the goddess Lakshmi, bringer of prosperity and wealth.

Kolam © Caroline Fraser

Kolam © Caroline Fraser

Kolam with dogs, Mahabilipuram © Caroline Fraser

Kolam, Mahabilipuram © Caroline Fraser

Kolam © Caroline Fraser

The contrast of the spotlessly clean pavements outside certain homes in Tamil Nadu with the general filth of most pavements and gutters was very striking, and it was this contrast that lead me to photograph kolam on the streets as a way to seek out something beautiful amongst the dirt.

And now, after being home for a few weeks, they are what I remember best about the streets that we walked. The images of litter and dirt fading into my memory.

street scene, Pondicherry © Caroline Fraser

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