Rangoli – Ephemeral sand art that promises to fascinate

Overlooking the Arabian Sea, Waterfront at Shatti Al Qurum, was the perfect location for the recently concluded Rangoli contest, organised by the Arabian Arts Academy. It was mesmerising to see women tracing wonderfully intricate patterns on the floor using nothing but their bare hands and tiny amounts of coloured sand, held carefully between their thumb and forefingers. Using pinches of coloured sand, the women created Rangoli designs that ranged from geometric shapes and floral patterns to inspirations drawn from nature and even deity impressions.

There are many legends associated with the origins of the art of Rangoli. The most popular version is recorded in the earliest treatise on Indian painting called Chitra Lakshana. As the story goes, a mighty King was deeply saddened at the death of the high priest’s young son. The grief-stricken king prayed to Lord Brahma pleading for the boy’s life to be restored. Moved by the king’s entreaties, Lord Brahma, the God of creation, asked the king to create a picture of the boy on the floor so that he could breathe life into it. The king did as asked and created the first Rangoli. The story symbolises the impermanence of life, which like the Rangoli is beautiful but fleeting.
While floor painting as an art form has been practised in many cultures throughout the world; today, it survives as a living tradition mostly in India. Sitting cross-legged, or bent over on their knees for more than three hours, the women participating in the Rangoli contest created wonderfully colourful patterns so effortlessly that it made onlookers stop and stare in amazement. While some of the participants were experienced and had been making Rangoli since their childhood, there were others like Snehal Gajera from Ahmedabad and Yasmeen Modi from Mumbai who were trying their hand at this elaborate art for the first time. Snehal decided to enter the contest inspired by her mother-in-law who is an expert at Rangoli making. “It was a last-minute decision to join the contest and I am glad I did,” she said.

Typically, made by women, Rangoli is an almost meditative form of art, that is created not just for decorative purposes but also because it is believed to be auspicious. According to custom, Rangoli is usually made on the festival of Diwali to invite the goddess of wealth into one’s home. So striking are they in their beauty that it is difficult to believe that the designs are just coloured dust that will fade away within a day or two. Brindha, another participant in the Rangoli contest, shared with some nostalgia how she grew up making Rangoli on special occasions right from her childhood. For Divya Nair, working with coloured sand to create Rangoli was a fairly recent experience. Sharing her memories, Divya said, “I come from the state of Kerala where as a child I used to make pookalam, a kind of Rangoli using flowers. Some years back, I saw my neighbour make Rangoli with powdered colours and I was inspired to try the same. It wasn’t long before I was hooked. I really enjoy making these now.”
Among the enthusiastic participants was young and extremely talented Kavya Patel. With an innate sense of confidence, precision and speed, 8-year-old Kavya Patel drew a lot of attention. Completely focused on creating her Rangoli, Kavya was oblivious to the attention she was garnering from those who had come to attend the Rangoli competition. Shyly she said, “I love colours and enjoy making pretty designs.” “Kavya has had no formal training of any kind in the art, she is completely self-taught. We just encourage her to express her creativity as she best likes,” said her mother who was participating along-side Kavya.
It was a tough decision for the judges to try and choose winners from amongst the participants, each of whom had created spectacular Rangoli that was awe-inspiring in detail and skill. Dr Shalini Gupta Kumar, an artist of repute and Lamyaa al Jabri, artist and director of Arabian Arts Academy evaluated the Rangolis made based on the intricacies of the design and the expertise with which it was laid out. The first prize was awarded to Yogita Vispute, while H Piyusha and Divya Nair were judged at second and third place respectively. The contest was supported by Muscat Pharmacy and the prizes were sponsored by Himalaya Herbals.