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John Keats’ poem Endymion begins with a line, ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever.’ Beauty is something which gives peace and calmness to our minds. Be it a flower, a little butterfly, or even a cute smile, these little things go a long way in giving that peace of mind one yearns for.

Each day has its ups and downs, strains and stress. But the mind and soul is always fresh and at peace in the wee hours of the morning. Early morning each day Hindu women folk are out, making designs at the entrance to their homes. They use rice flour, their dexterous fingers and inborn creativity, along with the tradition that has been handed down to them through generations. Kolam, as these beautiful decorations are called, has social and spiritual significance. It is believed that these designs invite Laxmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth into their houses, which in turn would drive away the evil spirits and bring wealth
and prosperity.

“The kolam signifies auspiciousness and prosperity. It is placed at the entrance of the house so that it brings peace of mind and calmness to those who see it. If one is peaceful at heart, that good vibe will spread to those he or she associates with, making the entire day pleasant,” Rev. Ishwara Sharma, a religious and cultural expert based in Jaffna told Nation.

First, water is sprinkled on the ground. Then, designs are worked out from dried rice flour, by placing them onto the floor. Movements are controlled and fast, testimony to practice that began at an early stage. Only the forefinger and the thumb are used to draw kolam. The designs are drawn based on dots of rice flour arranged according to different grid patterns. Then a pattern is created by either joining the dots using straight or curved lines or by drawing lines between and around the dots. During religious festivals and family events, the usually white designs become more vivid. They are adorned with brightly colored powders, and fresh flowers, along with symbols related to the nature of
the event.

The Hindu community in Sri Lanka draws these elaborate patterns, during celebrations. These patterns of vivid colorations are created using coloured rice flour, coloured gram powder, or colored coconut refuse. The designs are either traditional or take certain symbols such as peacocks or flowers. Unlike in India, the practice of drawing kolam is not just restricted to women. The whole family joins in the drawing of the designs. Some use kolam as the sacred ground where the new pot with milk is kept at the auspicious time, until it boils and the milk flows out, symbolizing prosperity for the coming year.

Kolam is traditionally made with rice flour as a source of food for the ants and birds. “Traditionally, kolams were designed using plain rice flour. There is a reason. When we place the kolam, we
unintentionally feed many lives including ants and birds,” Sharma added. However, nowadays people have begun to use chemicals to colour the powders, which is fatal to the animals. This is also
considered a great way to exercise.

The traditional forms of kolam have a scientific basis. They are symmetric around X and Y axis, with rounded edges and a combination of several simple designs superimposed over each other. This is similar to the concept of harmonics in physics, where each harmony responds to a certain frequency. The combination would yield sounds pleasing to the mind. This could be applied to what one sees, where corresponding harmonies are present for each frequency. The combinations of these are considered to give rise to artistic patterns, which are pleasing and calming to the mind.