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Symbolism in Aipan Art

Introduction

In the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, you will see women decorating the walls of their homes, pieces of fabric, or even paper with Aipan, a traditional art form Kumaon women have been practicing for centuries. The practice of Aipan Art reached its height during the rule of the Chand Dynasty in Kumaon. Originating in Almora, the art form has slowly found its way into many parts of the state as members of the Kumaoni community migrated and took with them the art they practice. 

Ritualisation of Aipan Art Process

The story of Aipan art informs us on two things—the spiritualisation of cultural tools and the process of ritualisation in social practice. In Kumaon society, like any other society, there are some codified social practices. These practices include puja, fasts, festive celebrations, or visiting the temple to worship. We need to look at Aipan Art within these codified practices of its community, which lay before us an interesting connection between folkloric creativity and a higher spiritual quest of the Kumaon community. 

Aipan Art
Aipan Walling Painting (Source- Magzoid)

Working tools with which the women prepare for the ritualised process of Aipan Art become cultural tools that communicate a meaning behind the whole process of making art. Umberto Eco in his study of Semiotics, talks about the interplay of visible and material structural form with inner-meaning making. Through this interplay, natural material like sticks, cotton, rice, and red soil becomes art tools, a part of the sacred ritual. 

While making Aipan Art, there is a silent understanding regarding who is doing what and who will take the lead. The process involves multi-player interactions. There are moments of verbal discourse through singing religious and devotional songs, along with day-to-day gossip and jokes. Such a discourse blurs the line of separation between mundane activities and sacred rituals.

Also Read: Ragamala Paintings: An Expression Of Music Through Art

Right Time to Make Aipan Art

Since Aipan art is a ritual practice codified with rules, we can say that women do not make art whenever they feel it. Several factors are involved in deciding the ‘right time’. According to Gudrun Frommherz, an anthropologist who researched Ritualisation and Temporal Rhythm in Aipan, the right time to commence Aipan depends on multiple time cycles. 

Aipan Art
Aipan Art on Cloth (Source- The Aipan Journal)

Apart from circadian rhythms, nested within larger lunar and planetary cycles, the ‘right time’ also depends on one’s family history and spiritual identity. After all, the seemingly simplified action of making Aipan is the result of a myriad of activities where multiple time cycles come into the picture. For example, the harvest of rice makes it possible for women to create an abundance of rice paste, and the availability of cotton sponges depends on the time during which the cotton is grown in the region.

Materials used to make Aipan Art

Boiled rice is ground with stones and stored in brass vessels as a paste. To paint the Aipan, women used cotton sponges and wooden sticks. The cotton sponge soaks the paint, and the fingers squeeze and apply it on the surface. Women use their fore, ring, and middle fingers to draw. They first flatten and smoothen the surface with red ochre (geru), and once the surface is dry, they begin to draw Aipan patterns with rice paste (bishwar). 

Medium of Aipan Art 

Aipan Art
Ganesha Motif in Aipan art (Souce: GITAGGED)

The places where women traditionally made Aipan are significant in the meaning behind the art form. The ritualisation of the art form happens because it supplements the main ritual religious ritual. Aipan purifies the home so that prayers can show results. Women make Aipan Art inside the houses, near the prayer room. During Diwali, Aipan patterns are made on the threshold to welcome Goddess Lakshmi. These places are near the location of ‘havan’. Nowadays, Women also draw Aipans on clothes and paper as cement walls are increasingly replacing mud-brick walls. 

List of Motifs in Aipan Art

Aipan Art
Janeo Aipan (Source- Dsource)
Aipan Art
Footprints of Lakshmi (Source: eSanskriti)
Aipan Art
Swastik (Source- Uttarakhand Hatt)
Aipan Art
Astadal Kumal motif of Aipan art (YouTube- Jiyapoonam Aipan Kala)
  1. On the occasion of Pooja Vedika, you can find the Vasudhaara motif on the doorsteps of the house, place of worship, and near Tulsi bed. Women carry out this sacred painting with their ring fingers. 
  2. Swastik motif represents all Gods and Goddesses, both known and unknown to the painters. If someone does not have enough knowledge of Aipan art, making Swastika is also accepted. The symbol represents marching ahead and achieving success. 
  3. Women make the Astadal Kamal motif of Aipan art where Havan takes place. It is octagonal with lotus petals and a swastika drawn at the centre. 
  4. Lakshmi Padchinda is a motif made on Diwali. Footprints of Goddess Lakshmi are drawn from the main entrance of the house to the place of worship. 
  5. Janeo Aipan is drawn at the place where the sacred thread ceremony takes place. This drawing has 15 dots in the centre. This is also drawn during Raksha Bandhan. 
  6. Bhadra: It is drawn at the place of worship and Yajna. Bhadra are of various versions depending on the number of dots. While some have 12, 19, and 24, others have 36 or even more. Women make different Aipan motifs with different numbers of dots for sixteen mothers of Lord Ganesha, who have different names, Matrika, Jeev Matrika, or Jyoti in Kumaoni. To perform the pooja of this goddess, the Aipan is drawn on a wall, paper, or a board nowadays, instead of the floor.

Also Read: A Brief History Of Lithography In India

Importance of Dots in Aipan art 

Dots are extremely important in Aipan art. Without dots, the work of Aipan is incomplete and inauspicious. Every group or block of lines should end with dots. An Aipan without dots is drawn on the 12th day of a family member’s death. Three days later, women wash away this Aipan and make a new Aipan to mark the end of the mourning period. 

The creation of an Aipan end begins and ends with a dot. The dot placed in the centre symbolises the centre of the universe. From this centre, all other lines and patterns emerge, symbolising how the entire universe revolves around its centre. Apart from religiously inspired motifs, Aipan art also draws inspiration from nature. There are floral patterns and creepers. Aipan art is symbolic of the rituals and festivals it celebrates.

Conclusion

The beauty of Aipan lies in the self-expression of women who make them and their important contribution to religious rituals which make the social and cultural fabric of the community. It keeps alive the sense of community, along with a connection with the collective past, giving them stability, solidarity, and hope in difficult times. 

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