Kolam a big draw at the Tallahassee Tamil Sangamís Pongal celebrations

By Thayumanasamy Somasundaram

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Alumni Village Recreation Hall, Tallahassee, FL 32310


Kolam (கோலம்), the traditional rice flour figure-drawing done by women of southeastern India every morning on the thresholds (வாசற்படி) of their homes usually attracts attention for its complexity and brings praise from neighbors for its beauty. The Kolam art-form, usually passed on from mothers to daughters, takes extra significance during the Pongal (பொங்கல்) festival season. The Pongal falls in mid January (தை மாதம்) when Sun begins its northern movement and enters the constellation called Mahara (Capricorn) indicating that spring (இளவேனிற் காலம்) will arrive soon. The Kolam is drawn by slowly releasing a stream of rice powder held between thumb and index fingers producing a thin line; the line is then curved and shaped using both wrist and thumb creating abstract patterns or shapes resembling everyday objects like flowers, fruits, and animals. Rows and columns of dots are usually first placed on the wet ground to guide the women in producing the patterns that result in drawings as small as one square foot to as large as twenty square feet or larger. It is customary to draw different patterns like line-kolams (கம்பிக் கோலம்), dot-kolams (புள்ளிக் கோலம்), figure-kolams (படக் கோலம்), etc., for each day and for every day of the year; the drawings are usually bigger and colorful during the month when Pongal festival is celebrated. Pongal celebration is the festival when Indian farmers say thanks to the Gods and community for their bountiful crops and share their joy with others. The reason for using rice powder is to allow ants and birds to feed on the grain there by sharing some of humanís good fortune with other living creatures.


So it is only natural for Indians celebrating Pongal in the US wanting to incorporate Kolam drawing as part of their festivities. However, in Tallahassee January is still too cold to draw Kolam in the front yards let alone expecting insects and birds to feast on the rice grains. Many felt that an important custom was missing during the festivities. So last year we decided to draw Kolam indoors thus giving the festival more an authentic touch. Circular and rectangular black-colored plastic table cloths, available at general stores, provided the background. After fixing the table cloths to the floor the Kolams were drawn on top of it. This idea was welcomed by many participating families.

Rice-flour Kolam (அரிசி மாவுக் கோலம்) being drawn on the threshold of the house

Color Kolam வண்ண புள்ளிக் கோலம்

Pongal Kolam depicting sugarcane, Sun, turmeric, and boiling pot of rice பொங்கல் கோலம்

Kolam being drawn indoor வீட்டின் உள்ளே வண்ணக் கோலம்

Traditional sweet rice Pongal is being prepared. சக்கரைப் பொங்கல் தயாராகிக் கொண்டு இருக்கிறது.


Some drew kolam depicting traditional pongal themes like sugarcane, turmeric, Sun, and pot of rice.† Other drew line-kolams and design-kolams with multiple colors. White rice flour powder was mixed with special color powders to produce shades of colors needed to decorate the interiors of the kolams. Children participated in drawing simple kolam pictures to the encouragement of others. Then the Pongal celebration began in earnest with a pot of sweet rice symbolically boiling over (the word Pongal in Tamil (தமிழ்) language has two meanings: rice-boiling over (பொங்கி வழி) and the dish made that way (பொங்கல்)). Soon everyone enjoyed a traditional south Indian cuisine including pongal, sweets, vegetable pilaf, and yogurt that others had brought to share. Everyone was happy that we were still able to practice and enjoy a tradition that dates back to several centuries and pass it on to younger generation.

Thayumanasamy Somasundaram is a Tallahassee resident since 1993. He likes to write about ethnic and cultural festivals of India and Tamil Nadu.

தாயுமானசாமி சோமசுந்தரம் 1993-ல் இருந்து தலகாசியில் வாழ்ந்து வருகிறார். அவர் இந்தியாவை பற்றியும் தமிழ்நாட்டைப் பற்றியும் நேரம் கிடைக்கும் போது பத்திரிக்கைகளுக்கு எழுதுவார்.

January 23, 2010, Tallahassee, FL 32317