Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Colourful Motifs

Mandana art has always been symbolic of festive occasions in Rajasthan. Sacred moments are sanctified by these line drawings.

Text by Lakhichand Jain
Translated by Harpreet Kaur

Mandana, a unique art form of the state of Rajasthan, is extensively used at weddings and during Diwali, Holi and other religious occasions. Mandana drawings were done on mudlayered walls of homes, on public walls and chowks (squares). But these types of homes no longer exist to recreate a perfect mandana art motif, and so this art form is fast disappearing.

Mandana is a different form of the Sanskrit word mandan which means to discover, and mandana means to draw with lines and create a work of art.

Seeing a mandana inevitably makes me sing ‘padharo maahre desh’ (come to my land), and makes me remember colourful Rajasthan. Memories immediately spring to mind, of sand swirled landscapes where sunsets are a riot of colours – deep yellow-ochre and splashes of red. A slow moving caravan of camels in the background, that look like cut-outs moving on the sand in slow motion, rounds off the nostalgic moment. During the Pushkar and the Jaisalmer melas, the dholak, sarangi and khadtal keep time and rhythm as tales of valour of Rajasthani heroes are being sung.

As the night progressively turns cold, the winds cause ripples on the sand. With different states that make up our country, the myriad traditions and cultures also have their own distinctive folk art. Mandana is one of the many folk arts. Like Pithora from Madhya Pradesh, Madhubani from Mithila in Bihar, Warli from Maharashtra, Alpana from Bengal, Kolam from the south and Pattachitra from Orissa. Mandana is a different form of the Sanskrit word mandan which means to discover, and mandana means to draw with lines and create a work of art. On all festivals and religious occasions, people of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra draw mandana. There was a time when mandana was used to a very large extent in these states, and Rajasthani and Marwari people would create large and colourful mandanas.

During Diwali, villages with mud homes would be layered with geru-gobar (brick and dung solution) to give an even and dry surface. After drying, a small strip of cloth (white) would be dipped in the mixture and a mandana drawn on every corner of the house – doors, windows, courtyards and walls. First an outline and then various shapes like triangles, squares, perpendicular lines, rectangles, octagons were drawn, which were anywhere between two to ten feet large.

While drawing mandanas, one needs to have complete concentration because mistakes cannot be improved on or corrected. While drawing traditional mandanas, no implements like brushes are used. Only a thin stick with the tip covered in cotton is used. This unique art is sometimes drawn from inside out or outside in. Small dots and lines are used to make a complete form. Just using various geometrical patterns can also create different styles, with each having its own personality. After the mandana dries, according to the occasions, kalash (metal pot), chaval (rice), phulpati (flowers and leaves), supari (areca nut), nagweli (areca) leaves and diya (mud lamps) are used to decorate it.

During the four days of Diwali, many different styles are created – mud lamps and lights are used to create a light and shadow fusion that is worth seeing. Earlier, the use of sindoor (vermilion), haldi (turmeric), neel (indigo) and phulpati (flowers) were ground to create colours.

It is regarded as inauspicious to keep the garden and open spaces in homes empty during festive occasions. That is the reason why most traditional Rajasthani and Jain homes have mandana decorations. Earlier, mandanas were created keeping in mind decorative styles mentioned in the Vedas and used to ward off black magic. The designs were symbolic, and some realistic ones were also incorporated which are not seen anymore. The Veda Puranas mention mandana art, but these mandanas are no longer seen or written about. During Vedic times, to get the blessings of the Gods and to be in their good books, hom-havans( ri tuals ) were conducted.

To make the puja successful, the area that was demarcated as the puja area was sprayed with gowmutra (cow urine) and then covered with a layer of red clay and gobar (cowdung) to cleanse it. Then squares, triangles and pentagons were drawn. These were filled with food, flour, turmeric, sindoor, sandalwood powder and colourful flowers. Mandana was also drawn to safeguard that sacred space from the asuras (demons), so that Gods and Goddesses would grace the occasion without fear. In case they could not find their way to the venue, directions were also drawn!

It is believed that mandana has its own style, design and language – it only needs somebody who can read and understand this form. This art form survived for centuries, but is now fast disappearing. It is closely related to the fields of Vaastu, beauty and adyatam (study) yantras (tantric diagrams). It now needs individuals who can link mandana motifs with these ancient concepts. This will help in unravelling and understanding this folk art. As in any disappearing or frequently unused form of art, the need of the moment is for mandana to get mainstream recognition and global accreditation. Only then can such dying arts get that vital breath of life they need to survive.

So, Mr Lakhichand Jain has made it his mission to propagate mandana via the commercial route. He has given a modern look to mandana art. Every year, he designs coins with mandana art motifs engraved on them. These have, for example, ‘pray for better rains’ with a square umbrella embossed on them. Today mandanas are showcased on jewellery, high fashion labels, paper products, textiles, corporate products, TV and films. Glass, copper, brass, tin and gold have also been used as a medium to create mandanas.

About the author:
Lakhichand Jain is master of applied art and is also an artist and product designer. He is a faculty member in the fashion design department at BD Somani Institute of Fashion Technology in Mumbai. He has been awarded many national awards and is planning to document this art form. In 2002-2003, he recreated mandanas from fading impressions. A design of the popular elephant headed God, Ganesh, was made and called Vinayak ki Jai, which he showcased at the Artist Centre and Bajaj Gallery. For more information, tel: 022 25339865 or log onto: www.intergold.co.in/mandana. He can also be contacted at lakhi_youthindia@rediffmail.com.

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