The Art of Fade Away


Art that lasts just a moment

Buddhist monks have highly sophisticated sand mandalas and Indian women have kolam. Kolam is a form of transitory art, a ritual to celebrate life and bless the earth and worship the Goddess of wealth, Sri Lakshmi. The best things in life are free and both are great ways to experience material detachment. The real art of living is loving what you do and doing what you love. Letting go of the ‘having’ and a final outcome. It is the loving what you do that counts in being. Loving what you do is what makes real craftspeople passionate about their work and addicted to create again and again another piece of art.

The kolam, or rangoli, is a beautiful ritual, if done with love and awareness, to celebrate Mother Earth. Although making the kolam for most women in India may be a custom of tradition, without much thinking and awareness behind it. The drawing of a kolam pattern on the ground requires a going-with-the-flow, a meditative attitude, a focused and concentrated mind, and the playfulness and openness of a child. The constantly bending over is a physical exercise that can become like yoga with the right state of mind. In some parts of India the kolams are made daily, in other parts they are done during holy festivals.

I was very lucky to be in India during the Pongal Puja festival, which lasts for a couple of days. Each day has its own ritual. It is a festival to celebrate the harvest, bless the giving, and make a fresh clean start for the coming. Of all the elements in the Pongal, the kolam is the most visible and joyful to watch.

On the ground of every house, courtyard, and in front of every door you will see beautiful white drawings. Before the festival starts, courtyards are cleaned and smeared with cow dug and turmeric that serve as an antibacterial agent and to deter ants. At the entrances of their houses and in courtyards, women gather and compete among each other to make the most beautiful and finest drawings.

The drawings are made by hand. No ruler is used. The women start the kolam by marking the place with regular placed white dots. Then they swing their hand around the dots in a smooth and confident way, using their fingers as a brush. The patterns range from flowery to geometric lines in mostly round, but also rectangular or square shapes. The paint is made out of rice flour, which is more common and cheaper than watercolors. But more importantly it feeds the ants and other insects and symbolizes a care for the insects, representing their respect for the earth and all living creatures. With each kolam a blessing is made for the house and the family living there for a new healthy and happy period.

And when people take up their daily routines again, people, animals, and traffic walk over and pass by the drawings; in essence, life goes on and. Rain and wind will fade out the drawing and take the good intentions into the cosmos.

Birgitta De Vos is a clothing designer, a graphic designer, a photographer, and formerly an instructor at the Design Academy of Eindhoven. She has traveled extensively as a research consultant specializing in the economic and aesthetic viability of crafts in developing countries. Visit her at