On the threshold, where nothing is permanent | Mahabalipuram and Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Here is one place I didn’t have to look hard for beautiful grounds. Every entrance to every home – from the marbled floor at the front doors of apartments in guarded buildings to the pavements and pathways at the entryways of huts on the street, was decorated with ephemeral powder drawings, called kolams.

I was lucky to be in Chennai during Pongal – an important harvest festival celebrated by Tamils, so the kolams, I was told, were more colorful and intricate than usual.

Popular in South India, the kolam is meant to bring prosperity and serve as an invitation into one’s home. I also read somewhere that it is a daily tribute to harmonious co-existence, as the white rice powder with which it is drawn is also an invitation for ants and birds to eat it.

Drawn on a carefully swept ground by the women of the household every single morning, during the day the intricate patterns get walked and driven on, blown around by the wind or washed away by rain, only to be drawn again at dawn the next day.

So, in addition to an invitation, the kolam seem to me to be an exercise in patience, humility and an acknowledgment of transience. Three things I must admit I don’t have much of a grip on or a very good understanding of, for that matter. How very un-Hindu of me, I know. Still, as fleeting as they are, I found kolams a much more enticing way to walk into somebody’s home than being greeted by the permanence of an obnoxious, worn-out doormat.

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3 thoughts on “On the threshold, where nothing is permanent | Mahabalipuram and Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

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