Long after the gates of the Meenakshi Temple closed for public darshan in the afternoons during this past week, a group of school students remained inside near the pradosha prakaram in the Swami Sannidhi and the Navarathri golu prakaram near goddess Meenakshi’s sanctum sanctorum. Little smiles flashed across their faces as they gathered near the designated areas with paint, brush and chalk pieces in hand.
Siyambala, a class VIII student of Guhan Matriculation School and Visalakshi of Class VII are thrilled to be here. Along with their other middle and high school buddies, they are on a mission. The students have taken a break from their classes to draw kolams on the stone floors of the temple. And for each one of them, it was an occasion to be cherished.
“It is like meditation,” says Karthikeyashree, as she moves the tiny chalk piece held between her forefinger and thumb deftly around the dots to draw the patterns she was taught in a workshop in school. The children teamed up in pairs and were guided by a group of women adept in the art and who, for the past four decades have been adorning the temple with beautiful kolams. This year they decided to do something different.
“We are ageing but our energy remains the same,” says Soundariammal, 89. She lives in Sholavandan and has been coming to the temple to do kolams since 1978 for what she believes is a great “service”. She is unable to squat and draw now but brings a group of women from her hometown to do so. “It is the blessings of the goddess that we are continuing,” she says.
The idea was initiated by her younger sister Lalitha Shankar, when a few like-minded friends got together and learnt the art of dawing kolam from Coimbatore-based S.V.Thambirasu.
To mark the 40th anniversary of drawing kolams at the temple, the seniors decided to initiate the school students this year. “We have first involved four schools on an experimental basis,” says Lalitha’s son, Aravind Sankar. He formed Lalitha Arts and Music Promotion Social (LAMPS) Trust to commemorate his mother’s contributions towards arts. Lalitha Sankar, who passed away in 2012, spearheaded the activity of drawing kolams in more than 130 temples across the region with her core group.
Once SPJ, Rajan, Guhan and B.P.Matriculation Schools came forward to participate, the women conducted workshops to teach students unconventional kolam patterns. Says Vasanthi Anniar, who has been doing the dotted kolam for 27 years, “We taught them particular combinations of two columns and three rows of dots based on which seven designs are possible.”
The spots to draw the kolams were earmarked for the children and using tracing paper, dots were placed equidistant from each other along the prakarams divided into four sections of 300 feet each. The students first joined the dots with chalk and then painted over them in red and white. Each year the old kolams are repainted and new ones are added.
“The seven basic designs are like the seven musical notes, which can unfold into millions of dots and be joined in a specific manner to create big designs, ” says Shenba, the younger daughter-in-law of Lalitha, guiding the children. “To coincide with our silver jubilee in 2003, we made one lakh kolams in the corridor around the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Sundareswarar which is now repainted every year,” she says.
With over 500 school students showing interest this year, Aravind plans to rope in more students next year. “It is creative, challenging and enjoyable. Once the youngsters master the method, they can add to the portfolio of designs,” he says.