Did You Know That Rangoli Has A Casteist History?

It wasn't always about decoration and was more about 'purification'.

So what’s the best thing you like about Diwali at your office? The bonus? The gifts? Or do you like to unleash your inner artist at that rangoli making competition? Well, why not right?  At least, it won’t pollute the air or make you go deaf, unlike firecrackers.

So you thought that Rangoli is all about arts and aesthetics? But did you know it wasn’t always about decoration and was more about purification? And that was very problematic.

But what is the history behind Diwali Rangoli?

Rangoli or floor paintings are made using rice (powdered or paste), coloured sand and flower petals but the art of making Rangoli isn’t restricted just to Diwali. It is widely practised across India and on different occasions and non-occasions. In Bengal, it is called Alapana, Aripana in Bihar, Kolam in Tamil Nadu and Mandana in Rajasthan. Since it is a transient art form unlike sculptures, it is difficult to trace its exact historical origins.

And why is a rangoli made?

It has been a part of Indian folklore since ages. However, it is not just about beautification and decoration. As per mythological belief, rangoli is made to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity who is worshipped during Diwali.

But why is it problematic? Is there something more to it?

Yes, because it is also about purification. In ancient times, rangolis were made to purify households. The Sanskrit word for it is Lipaayi. It means cleaning the polluted surroundings outside your house (preferably using cow dung)

So what is wrong if houses were cleaned? 

Because it wasn’t about cleaning the surroundings from dirt. It was about cleaning the so-called ‘impurities’. Our society was, and to an extent unfortunately still is, deeply caste-rooted where untouchability was the norm and people from the lower castes were considered impure. Their presence was considered inauspicious. The lipaayi was thus done to purify the surroundings which were supposedly contaminated by the lower castes.,
Shameful isn’t it? But hardly surprising since our history is all about caste-based oppression and discrimination.

But is it the same today?

Thankfully, it isn’t. Because rangoli has evolved from being a mere ritual to an elaborate art form. In not just festivals, rangolis are made on almost all special occasions. So, the next time you bring out the artist within you to make rangoli, remember that it was not just meant as a tool to decorate.