Kathakali and floor paintings: part of my journey

As a lifelong traveller, I landed in South-India many, many years ago.

Kathakali and floor paintings have been part of my journey.

I also learnt to draw the vibrant kolam designs decorating the thresholds of Tamil houses.

I arrived in Chennai in 2010 to participate in the exclusive kolam competition during the annual Mylapore Festival and have been back ever since, except for the last two years.

A vast carpet of kolams along North Mada: intricate dots echoing other dots, enmeshed lines with crossings made up of false twists and dead ends with astonishing eloquence.

I was captivated at first sight by its modest form and the sparkle of its contours.

Since then I have been exploring the streets around Mylapore and the women, intrigued by my daily presence, shared their skills with me and explained the meaning of the different patterns they were drawing.

From my base in a hotel in Mylapore, I set out every morning in December / January and walk down the inner streets and lanes of Mylapore to learn, listen to stories and document the various kola’s.

To me, kolams perfectly illustrate the idea of time where creation and destruction alternate, giving rhythm to the universe and human life.

In my personal creations, I weave together
the spirit of kolam and various symbols and draw the kolam whenever I exhibit my drawings.

I also write articles on my blog which is dedicated entirely to the traditions of floor paintings in India and elsewhere. My posts echo religious festivals, global events, and social causes for which women are very inventive in creating kolams.

When kolam rhymes with body perfume, it becomes ‘Shades of Kolam’; an olfactory adventure initiated by the brand Issey Miyake and for which I had the pleasure of bringing together several artists who participated in this project in Tamil-Nadu.

The journey does not end there: there is always this exhilarating pleasure to discover a unique, unseen kolam, sitting there, on the threshold of a house and distilling the fragrances – delicate, enchantment, patience, humility and serenity.


Chantal Jumel is a graduate of Sorbonne University. She is a freelance researcher, traveller, artist, and writer, specialised in Indian visual and performing art. Author of two books; one on kolams and ephemeral drawings in India. Contact – chantal.jumel@gmail.com


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