“Four hundred million Hindu women practice some form or another of this type of art or ritual during the year,” said Vijaya Nagarajan, author of a book on kolam and associate professor of religious studies. at the University of San Francisco.
Although I have always noticed in my own family that the ritual was performed only by women in the household, I realized through conversations with Ms. Nagarajan that it is almost universally closely tied to the female experience. As part of her research for her book, Ms Nagarajan spent time in Madurai, a town in Tamil Nadu, where she spoke with people whose gender expressions were fluid. “They did the kolam when they woke up in the morning and felt like a woman,” she said. “They would dress in their sari, put the jasmine flowers in their hair, braid their hair and make the kolam. It is an indication of genre, even if the genre is fluid.
In recent years, kolam artists have embraced the multicolored rangoli tradition – although the change has been divisive, especially in kolam competitions in India. “If the judges were more traditional, older judges, the traditional kolam was the best, the most aesthetic,” Ms. Nagarajan told me. “But if it were younger women, they would say the rangoli was better, reflecting the fascination with color and changing notions of beauty.”
Srividya Vallurupalli, 46, a software engineer in Danville, Calif., has experienced this change firsthand. “When my mother was growing up, it was only done with white powder,” she said. “In our generation, the colors have added.”
Once passed down from generation to generation to Indian women, usually from mother to daughter, the art of rangoli is now the subject of countless tutorials on social media. Instagrammers such as Kanchan Kauthale, 36, who lives in Maharashtra, post step-by-step photos of their rangoli creations. On TikTok, rangoli videos take the viewer from a simple outline to a bold pattern at mesmerizing speed; together, posts tagged #rangoli have over 840 million views.