The turf for drawing kolam had to be made ready first. There was a platform running from the entrance of my house to the gate, on either side was our garden, the infamous one tended by the duo – my grand mother and her old gardener. Beyond the gate, and leading to the road was a rectangular patch of land, overgrown with grass and weeds for the best part of the year. There was a small clearing about 5ft x 5 ft where small kolams were drawn every morning.
First, well before Margazhi, came the task of making this clearing larger. My gardener was pressed into service. He dug into the hard ground and pulled out clods of earth that revealed knots of roots that spread their tentacles on all sides. As he tugged the roots out little tremors ran on the surface as weeds shuddered themselves out of the earth.
He patted and levelled the loose soil. Then it was up to me to discourage weeds and grasses from growing again. My grandmother asked paal kaara Lakshmi who doubled and tripled into various roles after she distributed milk, to bring fresh cow dung everyday and leave it near the gate. The green blob of dung invited me every morning, my grandmother taught me how to mix the dung in water and sprinkle it on the clearing. After a week the cleared ground shone green in the morning light like jade. And I was recommended to keep using the dung till the end of Margazhi.
On the first day of Margazhi that year I plugged my ears with cotton wool, wore a muffler and stepped out into the dark morning. My friend who was half finished through a complicated kolam asked me to sprinkle water, clean the ground and keep pullis. She said that by then she would be finished and will then help me through my kolam. I had chosen a simple kolam that had straight lines joining the dots to make geometrical lotus pattern. I had taken great pains to keep the dots well aligned and maintain a uniform gap between them, hence the lotuses were all of the same size. My friend drew large lotuses with manifold petals on the four sides of the kolam. Just as we were finished the bajanai group was returning; the first rays of the sun slanted through fog and cast a golden luminosity, and my kolam appeared like a pearl accentuating a piece of jewellery made of jade.
A Note On Kola Podi
Usually kola podi was bought from an old man who lugged it and rock salt on a small cart, he measured the powder in padis. My mother bought the podi in an old Amul tin. She took small quantities and mixed rice flour in equal measure. The kola podi is coarse and is ground from a particular rock. My mother added the rice flour from her kitchen for two reasons. She said that we draw kolams so that small insects like ants got some food, and according to her the kola podi from the market was inedible. She said that using only rice flour to draw large kolams was uneconomical, also the finely ground flour is not easy to use on clay surface. She used only rice flour to draw small kolams in the pujai room and so do I now. She also said that the rice flour gave a pearly brightness to the otherwise dully coloured kola podi of the market.