The kolam with white ‘kola maavu’ is a common and welcome sign in front of most Tamil Nadu homes. Come Marghazhi (Dec-Jan) and Pongal the kolam takes many hues with many coloured powders much like the Rangoli of North India. I have often wondered where the colour powder comes from. My guess was somewhere in North India or even China.
On a recent trip to Tiruvannamalai I discovered the source of these coloured powders.
In a village on the highway near Tindivanam the roadside is lined with several people selling sack full of coloured powder. My curiosity was piqued by the concentration of single product around a village. What was the unique strength? On my return journey the driver parked at this village for me to explore.
There were several sellers – primarily old women and young girls. Some men too. My question to them was why is there such a concentration here? What is their speciality? Is it some raw material available only here or is some special skill or formula handed down? The women were not forthcoming with the answers, either because of their limited knowledge or my limited communication skills or their reluctance to share with a stranger.
The little information I got was scanty and sometimes conflicting.
“The material comes from Salem”
“The sand here is good for this”
“We get materials from many places”
“Special skills of our people”
I also spied a 25-kg sack labelled “Coated Ground Calcium Carbonate. Made in Viet Nam”
There were also some domestic grinders to grind the base (sand?) and mix the colours. The ground material was being spread on a mat to cool or dry.
They sell the powder @ Rs 20 per measure (padi?). “In the city, it sells for Rs 50”, added my driver and another customer.
The activity is confined to the weeks preceding Pongal. At other times the families go back to ‘iron business” which could mean trading in iron vessels or metal scrap according to my “interpreter”.
In any case, I came away with respect for this resilient and industrious community and will remember them whenever I see a coloured kolam or Rangoli as above.
Happy Pongal greetings in advance.