Sacred Custodians of the Earth? Women, Spirituality, and the Environment

By Alaine Low; Soraya Tremayne | Go to book overview

10
Soil as the Goddess Bhudevi in
a Tamil Women’s Ritual:
The Kolam in India

Vijaya Rettakudi Nagarajan

What we separate as art, economics, and religion appear intermeshed
as aspects of the same performance. The aesthetics, ethos, and world-
view of a person are shaped in childhood and throughout early life, and
reinforced later, by these verbal and nonverbal environments.

A. K. Ramanujan, Folk Tales from India: A Selection of Oral Tales
from Twenty-two Languages

[W]e draw the kolam as our first ritual act in the morning to remind
ourselves to remember Bhudevi. We walk on her. We spit on her; we
poke her; we burden her. We expect her to hear us and all the activities
we do on her with endless patience. So, we do the kolam.

Jaya Mami, Thanjavur District

Jaya Mami answered my question: Why do you draw the kolam on the threshold of your house every day at dawn?1 We were sitting in the cool and open rectangular space in the centre of her house, the sun streaming through the red-tiled roofs, the centre of the room opening to the sky. Even though it was December in Tamil Nadu, it was hot in the noonday sun, hot enough that people still used umbrellas to brace themselves against the searing heat and light. I had arrived in India during the month of Margaii, falling between mid-December and mid-January, the most important ritual month for the cultural practice of the kolam.2

This chapter deals with the notion of ‘embedded ecologies’ in the Hindu folk religious practice, the kolam, a women’s ritual art performed at dawn on the thresholds of houses, temples, and

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