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Mom’s Legacy Inspires Brothers to Smash Age-Old Stereotypes With Kolam

In April 2020, Ravishankar VM and Surya VM, residents of Chennai duo began learning the traditional art form – Kolam and decorating their threshold as a hobby. Today, they make elaborate designs and have over 35,000 followers on social media.

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Over the years, many cultural practices have been passed down to women as a part of their moral responsibilities to society. One of them is practising the art form of drawing kolams, which are patterns of lines, curves and loops based on a grid of dots.

Women wake up every day before dawn and draw intricate patterns, seen as a symbol of auspiciousness, on the threshold of the house using finely ground rice powder. In Tamil culture, the threshold is considered significant as it is the meeting point of the internal and external parts of the home.

Disrupting this age-old ritualistic practice which is mostly carried about by women are two brothers from Chennai’s Thiruvottiyur — Ravishankar VM (30) and Surya VM (27). During the lockdown last year, the duo began learning the art form and decorating their threshold as a hobby.

“I made my first drawing for the Tamil New Year in April 2020. I referred to a book with kolam designs and practised one on a piece of paper. In the morning, I swept and sprinkled water on the threshold before drawing the design using rice powder. It was not perfect, but I managed to get the curves and loops right. This motivated me to continue practising,” says Ravishankar in an interview with The Better India.

Today, the brothers make elaborate designs, share their work on their Instagram page Murai Vaasal (threshold), and have over 35,000 followers.

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Kolams drawn by Surya and Ravishankar

A colourful childhood

Ravishankar recalls growing up watching his mother draw kolams every morning before leaving for work. Most days, she would make simple patterns with four or five dots. However, during the auspicious Margazhi month, the kolams would be as large as their threshold and filled with multiple colours.

“During this season, every house would have kolams larger than their threshold. Some would even spread onto the road. It used to be very exciting seeing these bustling mornings. My brother and I would walk up and down the street taking mental notes of interesting designs or motifs on kolams. Once we returned home, we would try to replicate them in a notebook with the help of our grandmother,” says Ravishankar.

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Ravishankar and Surya with their mother.

From class 9, it became a ritual for him and Surya to join their mother every morning to draw kolams. While she would do the complicated drawings, the brothers would fill them with colours.

Ravishankar recalls, “On some occasions, Surya and I would make drawings of cartoon characters using the rice powder. But we also learnt how to make the traditional designs using pullis (dots).”

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However, this ritual slowly faded after the duo joined college and got busy with their personal lives.

Reviving traditions

During the first lockdown, Ravishankar and Surya found themselves with spare time as they were working from home. As the festival of Tamil New Year was approaching, the duo recalled their childhood tradition of helping their mother draw kolams, and decided to revive it.

“Though our first attempt was not perfect, we realised that while practising the art form, our minds were calm and focused on the task at hand. It also kept our brains engaged as we needed to remember the loop patterns. Even if one loop is drawn on the wrong dot, the design will be ruined,” says Ravishankar.

The success of their first attempt pushed the brothers to try their hand at other types of kolams including padi kolam, sikku kolam and pulli kolam. By June 2020, the duo was confident about their work and started an Instagram page named Murai Vaasal to share their journey.

“The art form is not a woman’s prerogative, it can be practised by anyone. When our work started gaining attention many people came forward to appreciate us, some were inspired to start practising, and some were against it. We received many negative messages but we ignored those and continued sharing our work,” says Ravishankar.

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Modern designs made by Surya and Ravishankar

Recently, the duo has begun innovating designs by introducing modern concepts to traditional designs. For Pride 2021, Ravishankar made a kolam with a rainbow and for World Yoga Day he drew asanas as kolams. All the designs were drawn using the sikku, pulli, and padi patterns.

Visit the Murai Vaasal page to see their kolams.

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