Shanthi Chandrasekar

Indian kolam painting North Potomac, Maryland
Photo Credit: Edwin Remsberg Photographs

2010-11 Folklife Apprenticeship Award recipient

Shanthi Chandrasekar is a master Indian kolam painter from North Potomac, Maryland. A kolam is a symmetrical, geometric line drawing that consists of curved loops drawn around dots in a grid pattern. In Sri Lanka and South India, it is widely practiced by Hindu women; Shanthi learned the tradition from her grandmother in Tamil Nadu, India.

Traditionally, Indian women begin their day by drawing a kolam with rice flour outside their front door; the kolam is a sign of welcome to guests, as well as a way to invite prosperity to the home. Additionally, the kolam offers an easy meal to ants, birds, and other small creatures—a daily reminder of our co-existence with nature.

Designed to be temporary, throughout the day the drawing is trod upon, blown by the wind, and washed away by the rain. In the morning before sunrise, Indian women wash the surface where they placed the previous day’s kolam and create a new one while the surface is still damp enough to hold the design. In this way, kolams embody the ephemerality of life.

Shanthi also has a deep interest in scientific inquiry; she finds her greatest inspiration creating kolams and other art forms that lie at the intersection of science and spirituality. Shanthi has taught her children how to make kolams, and led kolam-drawing workshops throughout the region.

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