#1: Food for the birds and insects
Generosity is important during Deepavali. The Hindu scriptures teach followers to show charity to all – whether humans or animals. The laying out of rice flour or broken grains of rice on the floor first thing in the morning was to share a meal with the ants, birds and other small critters. Eventually, vegetable dyes were used to colour the rice for ornamental purposes.
#2: Welcoming the goddess of prosperity
A kolam is meant to welcome Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of Prosperity, into one’s home. The decorative rice motif is usually drawn in the front of the house, attracting good luck and putting a smile on the faces of visitors who come for Deepavali festivities in the home.
#3: The hand that feeds
Typically, the drawing of the kolam is done by a young lady or young women in the household. Because of the time, patience and extraordinary attention to detail needed to complete the kolam design on the eve of Deepavali, the family members often draw it out together.
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#4: Rangoli or kolam?
In South India, a kolam takes the form of geometric patterns of dots, lines and curves made from coloured rice flour. Kolam means 'beauty' and is known as rangoli further up north in the country, forming drawings of flowers or auspicious animals in the Hindu tradition and enhanced with oil lamps.
#5: Not just a Deepavali tradition
The kolam is an art form that accompanies at other Hindu celebrations besides Deepavali, like the harvest festivals of Ponggal in January or Onam in early September. Every year around Deepavali, shopping malls and commercial areas boast large, elaborate examples of the kolam that feature rice, peas, red beans, glitter, oil lamps, and other props to impress the crowds. Take care not to disturb the designs as they will be very difficult to repair!
#6: The beauty of tradition
Despite the widespread availability of ready-made sticker kolam decorations at Indian stores in Brickfields and Klang, professional kolam artists like Ruben Prakash, director of S4SKY Rangoli Kolam Malaysia, work tirelessly to keep the free-hand artform alive. Many artists also offer their kolam designing expertise for private events like weddings or parties.
#7: Record-breaking kolams
If you thought making a small kolam was painstaking, try to imagine making a huge one! In August 2007, approximately 1,700 students and 100 teachers from SMK Methodist ACS Ipoh earned a spot in the Malaysia Book of Records with the largest kolam measuring 73.3m by 41.3m, forming the shape of the Malaysian flag in celebration of the country's 50th year of independence.