Devotion and Decoration Through Indian Floor Art
Picture this: You’re at a lavishly decorated venue where a wedding is being held. You walk in and are dazzled by a gigantic, sprawling design created on the floor of the entrance. Artists use flowers, glitter, acrylic paint, and other contemporary mediums are to create semi-permanent floor decor. This is a popular practise in India. People draw floor art to commemorate various events like festivals, weddings, births, and other auspicious events. But are you familiar with the traditional roots of Indian floor art?
Floor art was not just a means of decoration and adding aesthetic appeal; it also had spiritual meanings connected with it. Practically every state in India practises some form of floor painting. Different themes, styles, and motifs are linked with each variation of Indian floor art.
The Purpose of Indian Floor Art
Floor art was believed to serve several different purposes. Other than being aesthetically pleasing to look at, many communities believe that they offer protection against evil. So they would traditionally draw these designs at the entrance of a house or a place of worship. Many forms of Indian floor art were women-centric. As women did not have a lot of freedom or value in patriarchal societies, these art forms gave them a medium to express themselves and explore life in ways other than the mundane routines and household labour they were accustomed to.
Let’s take a look at the different art forms originating from all parts of the country and explore the unique aspects of Indian floor paintings.
Alpona is an Indian floor art form that originated in Bengal. It is named after the Sanskrit word ‘alimpana’, meaning ‘to plaster’. It was a part of a woman’s daily rituals. Bengali women created designs using a paste of atop chal or refined rice, on a clay or mud base. Alpona was closely associated with Shantiniketan and, consequently, the Bengal School of Art.
The subject of the Alpona is dependent on the occasion the artist creates it for. So an alpona accompanying a prayer for a child would include fertility symbols and motifs surrounding motherhood and childbirth as the central theme. Various styles of Alpona exist, and the art form is still prevalent today. The folk art was simplistic, and women of the Santhal tribal community would paint basic natural motifs and geometric shapes. Hindu women would illustrate mythological and religious symbols in their alponas. A new style of Alpona also emerged at Shantiniketan, which was elaborate and interpreted the folk art form as fine art.
Rangoli is a generalised term used for most floor art in India. However, the term originated the state of Maharashtra. People often draw rangoli during festivals and auspicious events. Rangolis represent joy and positivity, which is why they feature a wide range of patterns and are very colourful. Traditionally, the women of the house practised this art form.
While its exact origin is unclear, some sources state that Rangolis are linked to the episode of Sita Haran. Laxman draws a circle of protection around Sita, but she crosses it and is subsequently kidnapped by Ravana. The Laxman Rekha is a form of rangoli with divine protective powers. Thus, some people believe that rangolis offer protectection against evil, which is why some families make a new rangoli outside their house each day. Diwali is the celebration of Rama and Sita’s return to Ayodhya, and the art form is especially associated with this festival.
The artist uses powders, flower petals, and flowers to create elaborate Rangoli designs. During Diwali, they also place diyas over it. In certain regions, people draw rangolis during Makar Sankranti and Pongal as well. Poeple believe that rangolis welcome Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth, into the home and thus symbolise wealth and prosperity. Today, most venues hire artists to create huge rangolis to mark auspicious occasions or the start of a new venture.
Sanjhi is a stencil art form that originated in Uttar Pradesh. The art involves the creation of patterns by sifting powder through stencils. Sanjhi artists can cut stencils without drawing the pattern on the paper. This art form is traditionally drawn on the floor or a similar flat surface. However, a variation called Jal Sanjhi involves artists creating images on the surface of water. This spiritual art form has strong religious connections, and artists traditionally used it to decorate places of worship.
The art began as a folk practise. Young and unmarried girls would use clay, clothes, twigs, etc. to create the image of the Sanjhi goddess. With time, this practice reached the high priests of the temple, and they changed the mediums and associations of the art form. Sanjhis came to represent the image of Lord Krishna. Today, artists create Sanjhis with powders of different colours and flower petals.
Kalam Ezuthu, or Kalamezhuthu, is a form of floor art practised in Kerala. It is a ritual art form, and many communities practise it. People consider it a form of protection and a means to avoid unfavourable events. The themes of Kalam Ezhuthu include the images of various gods and goddesses. Artsist paint the gods with angry and aggressive expressions (ugram) and they may sometimes hold weapons. They paint the eyes of the deity at the very end, as people believe that the Kalam Ezhuthu comes to life once the deity opens its eyes.
Before painting, the artist will recite a chant for 15 minutes. Usually, they will use natural colours to prepare the designs. The five most prominent colours are white (rice), yellow (turmeric), green (leaves), red (turmeric and lime), and black (charcoal). Kalam Ezhuthu designs are created during festivals and auspicious occasions in the temples of Bhadrakali, Kamadeva, and Ayappa, and in Sarppa Kavu (sacred snake groves).
Mandana floor art is created in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. In the Gujjar Bhakha language, Mandana means ‘to draw’ or ‘to decorate’. Women of the Meena community traditionally practise Mandana art. Mandana patterns are predominantly red and white. The red pigment is sourced from brick, whereas the white pigment is sourced from chalk. The artist draws the Mandana on a base of clay and cow dung.
This Indian floor art form is usually drawn on auspicious occasions and festivals like Navratri and Diwali. The communities that practise Mandana art believe that it offers protection from evil and also invites divine powers into the household. These paintings are drawn on both walls and floors in Rajasthan and only on floors in Madhya Pradesh. Learning the intricacies of Manadana is a breeze with Rooftop’s art workshops. Our instructors will guide you every step of the way until you become a bona fide Mandana master!
Kolams are traditionally drawn on the doorsteps of homes every single day. This art form is practised both for religious and ornamental purposes. Kolam patterns are made up of straight and looping, unbroken lines. Patterns are usually symmetrical, as artists use them to denote the Hindu concept of universal balance, or Shiva Shakti. A single dot in the centre of the unbroken pattern represents blood and the start of all life. It is also a fertility symbol.
In the Hindu code of conduct, the Dharma Shastras include bhut yadnya, or sacrifice to creatures. As part of their five daily duties, the homeowner should offer food to all creatures of nature, like birds, ants, insects, etc. Women would draw Kolam patterns with rice flour or paste. The edible designs attracted insects, birds, and other creatures that fed on them. As a new Kolam was created every day, this helped the women perform their dharmic duty while also providing protection and beautification to the house.
This ancient art may no longer be a daily sight in rural homes, but with Rooftop’s workshops you can make it a part of your daily art practise. Download the Rooftop App and check our list of upcoming workshops so you never miss a workshop on Kolam art.
Indian Floor Art and The Diversity of Cultural Expressions
Certain motifs, such as peacocks, fish, creepers, lotus flowers, etc. are common in the various forms of Indian floor painting. Geometric and symmetrical designs are popular in the hilly and mountainous regions, whereas floral and stylized patterns dominate the floor art of the plains.
Even though floor art is an ephemeral medium, it is part of the religious and cultural identity of many Indian communities. The dedication and effort required to create a beautiful piece of art, only for it to fade after a while, demonstrates strong will and spirit. The different Indian floor art forms also display the diversity of our culture and the heights of creativity and artistic expression that once prevailed in most common households. Even today, art connects Indian families in a unique way.
Interested in learning more about the rituals and traditions associated with folk art forms? Join us on interesting daily art workshops to learn and create these Indian floor art forms and many more. Download the Rooftop App from Google Play or the App Store to register now.
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