Makar Sankranti 2023: Traditional Rangoli In Myriad Modern Forms

Ranjani Govind

Jan 14, 2023, 12:40 PM | Updated 09:01 PM IST

Mandala Art for Makar Sankranti
Mandala Art for Makar Sankranti
  • K. Kusum, daughter of late musicologist S. Krishnamurthy and great-grand daughter of composer Mysore Vasudevacharya, has created nearly a thousand designs in rangoli, this time adding a new set of Mandalas for Sankranti.
  • Apart from being a veena player, dancer, wild life and bird enthusiast and columnist, K. Kusum is an artist with a special eye for rangolis. What’s more, the idea of fashioning new rangolis for Sankranti overpowered her a few months ago, and saw her creating those one after the other.

    K. Kusum
    K. Kusum

    This time, it was a geometric configuration of symbols or Mandalas, as it is known in Sanskrit, with Sankranti representations. She has meticulously brought in sugarcane, yellu (sesame) and bella (jaggery) and a host of divine elements and fundamentals into her new set of Mandala-rangoli designs.

    Within a matter of month, Kusum had nearly 50 Mandala prototypes emerge like a flowing river. “Mandalas generally have one exclusive midpoint from which originates a range of symbols, shapes and forms. They can represent both geometric and organic forms and bring in inventive viewpoints. They can also contain recognizable images that carry meaning for the person who is creating it,” says Kusum who is planning to soon bring out a book of Mandala designs.

    “2023 seemed more special as the last two years of the pandemic has had people restricted in their activity and vivacious thinking. If colouring books are getting to be a trend for leisure pursuits, Rangoli art and Mandalas too are equally interesting and far more creative to observe, learn and colour,” assures Kusum.

    Mandala in Sanskrit means ‘circle’ and is made up of artistically-crafted bends and curves along with decorative symbols believed to represent the universe and cosmos. “Mandalas assist with healing and positivity, and help enlighten ordinary minds. Some symbols are used for meditation and art therapy for adults and children. Clinical studies have shown Mandalas to calm down minds and promote sleep and ease depression,” says Kusum, who got in touch with psychologists to seek guidance, while creating the designs.

    Are Mandalas common to India? Kusum’s passion for rangoli art saw her widening her horizon, since every festival would bring in discussions on the rangolis she drew at home. Meanwhile, the understanding of Mandalas was the next step she discovered.

    “The divinity fundamental to rangoli art was what I grew up with, so my book of rangoli art, ‘Lines Divine,’ published by Prism a few years ago, followed by my Fun-Rangolis With Numericals for children, and now the Mandala Art are all extensions of my basic love for floral art. My father, musicologist S. Krishnamurthy, who appreciated my eye for these drawings used to tell me that Mandalas were a common feature of Buddhist paintings and art forms. Mayans and Australian aborigines, and some devout Europeans are said to have created Mandalas in one form or the other,” explains Kusum.    

    Kusum’s Beginning With Art

    The English Literature student Kusum who learnt the Saraswati veena under maestro Doreswamy Iyengar has also provided training to many on the instrument. Her association with drawings or rangoli art was an unlikely inspiration until a few years ago. She was forced to take to the floral rangolis in front of the sacred Tulasi when her mother (Devaki Murthy, author of Upasane) stopped making them, due to osteoporosis and instructed her to carry the tradition ahead. 

    The unknown terrain gradually got familiar and today, for Kusum - the great grand-daughter of the legendary composer Mysore Vasudevachar - switching gears to journey on the drawing board has been a pleasant memory. “After seeing my drawings based on rangoli patterns, my aunt, Parimala from Mysore, was the first one to make me move forward for documenting the same,” says Kusum.

    About six years ago, Kusum brought out nearly 500 intricate contemporary versions of rangoli patterns in the book, Lines Divine. Apart from mainstream rangoli models with modern touches, Lines Divine has patterns for shoulder bordering, side bordering, filling up patterns, variety of inner intricacies that can be brought into drawings, geometrical and floral variants, mythical characters, birds and leafy designs, all so flawlessly represented by deft hand-drawings.

    Kusum’s passion transcends from being just a mere floral art. It assumes spontaneous expressions that can be computerised and used in various mediums of art. Some of her designs can also be used for kundan work or as standalone paintings. The line drawings can be used as intricate crafting in jewellery, on ceramic tiles, or even copied for sari embroidery or fabric design.

    As floral patterns evoked good response, it inspired Kusum to contemplate on having something special for growing children.  Another set of 130 rangoli patterns emerged, this time with a creative fuse of alphabets and numerals to help young minds kindle a sense of creativity.

    "Pada Rangoli is another set where letters are embedded in rangoli art form to enrich the vocabulary of children, that was serialized in Udayavani’s children’s magazine section,” she says, adding that educationists, Montessori teachers and child psychologists after introspection had said the work will help igniting young minds, to identify colours and patterns.

    “While my son Vasudev K, a software engineer, helped me with re-crafting them for being designs on greeting cards, crockery, bookmarks, pottery and T-shirts, well-known traditional painter Radhakrishna Shastri guided me into pruning my expressions to suit all mediums,” says Kusum. 

    Kusum, daughter of the late musicologist S. Krishnamurthy who retired as Station Director of All India Radio, has composed Bhakthi Geethe lyrics for two of her albums Geetha Katha Kusuma and Kusumanjali.

    Sankranti mandalas created by K Kusum
    Sankranti mandalas created by K Kusum

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