Rangoli (ran-goal-i) or Floor designs are a popular art form practiced all over India. These designs are made on mud floors and walls. Before any auspicious occasion, they are a must as they are believed to ward off evil. In earlier times when the floors were mud-splattered with cow dung, rangolis were made every day at the entrance of the house. The designs are complicated and use local materials. Rangoli is known as Aipan or Alokhathap in the Kumaon region of the Himalayas. Kolam in the state of Tamil Nadu becomes Mandana in Rajasthan, Chauk Purna in Chattisgarh, Alpana in Bengal, Aripana in Bihar, Chowk Pujan in Uttar Pradesh, Muggu in Andhra Pradesh, Golam, Kolam or Kkalam in Kerala, Rangavallie in Karnatak and Saathiya in Gujarat. Whatever the name, the function and sentiment behind this Folk art remain the same.
There are some legends and myths associated with the origin of Rangoli and references can be found in a treatise on Indian Paintings named Chitra Lakshana.
It is said that a long time ago there was a Kingdom ruled by a King. The King had a royal priest. Both the king and the Royal Priest were very popular with the general citizens of the kingdom. One day the son of the priest died suddenly. The priest was grief-stricken as were the King and the citizens. The entire Kingdom started praying to Lord Brahma and asked him to have mercy and bring the priest’s son back to life. On witnessing their grief and the sincerity of their prayers Brahmaji was moved. Brahmaji told the king to paint an image of the dead boy on the floor and put life into the image. The boy became alive again. The whole Kingdom along with the king and the priest rejoiced and thanked the Lord. It is said hence it became a tradition to paint rangolis on the floors of all houses.
According to this beautiful tale, the rangoli is a magical invitation with the blessing of Lord Brahma.
There is another story associated with rangoli and Goddess Andal.
In the 8th Century, there was a devotee of Lord Vishnu named Vishnuchitta. His job was to string the garland for Lord Vishnu. He and his wife had no children. Vishnuchitta and his wife prayed to the Lord for a child. One day he found a baby girl under a tulsi plant in the temple garden. He named the baby Khodai meaning ‘a beautiful garland’. She grew up in an atmosphere of love and devotion for Lord Vishnu as Vishnuchitta was a Tamil poet of repute. As young Khodai grew, she started imagining herself married to the Lord. She would string garlands and wear them herself before offering them to the idol. One day she was caught by her father and he was shocked by her deed. Lord Vishnu appeared in Vishnuchitta’s dream and indicated that the garlands were acceptable to him. She now came to be known as Andal ‘the girl who ruled over the Lord’
Soon Andal turned 15 years of age and prayed to Lord Vishnu to marry her. She prayed during the month of MARGAZI i.e. the days between December 14th to January 14th). This period is considered very auspicious for religious activity all over India according to the Hindus. One and a half hours before sunrise, which is known as the ‘Brahma Muhurta’, is even more auspicious. Goddess Andal’s wish came true and she got married to Lord Vishnu and merged into him. So now in the South of India, during this month unmarried girls get up early before sunrise and paint rangolis on the entrance of their homes in the hope of getting the husbands of their dreams.
According to certain theories, there exists a relationship between vibrations and geometric patterns. If you put sand on a metal plate and vibrate it at a certain frequency geometric patterns are formed.
“This science is called Cymatics. The reason a rangoli is drawn at the entrance of a house is because of its calming effect on a visitor who is just about to enter the house. It manifests into vibrations (brainwaves) in the visitor’s mind, putting him at ease, making him comfortable and happy.”