Indo-American Interconnected Overtones: Kolam and Iikaah

Another Indian and American link that fascinates me is kolam and iikaah, sand painting of both the cultures.

Historically it is believed that Navajo learned the art of sacred painting from the Pueblo Indians. Ancestors of Pueblo Indians were the prehistoric Anasazi, Mogollon, and Mimbres. Iikaah is the Navajo name for Native American sand painting. It translates to “place where gods come and go”. They are made using anything between colored sand, corn meal, flower pollen, to powdered barks and roots. They are created to heal a person during a ceremony. For colors they use crushed gypsum for white, yellow ochre, red sandstone, charcoal, and a mixture of charcoal and gypsum for blue. More hues can be obtained by mixing these colors. Iikaah contain the images of yebichelli or the Holy People. Images in the iikaah will signify what kind of healing is required. There are more than 600 such patterns and images. During the ceremony the medicine man will ask the yebichelli to come into the painting and help heal the patient. Sitting on iikaah will help the patient to absorb the spiritual power of the yebichelli and eventual healing. Iikaah must be destroyed within 12 hours of creation. Women are not supposed to chant for yebichelli as they could be either pregnant (possible harm to unborn) or the taboo of menstruation.


Kolam tradition in India dates back to Indus Valley Civilization. Great epic, Mahabharata says that gopikas or the shepherd women drew exquisite kolams to forget the pain when their beloved Krishna is travelling. Kolam drawing is also listed as one of the 64 forms of art to be learnt in Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra. Kolams are drawn every day in the morning before sunrise on temple floors or on the doorstep of homes by women to signify “welcome” of anything auspicious and Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth. Kolams are created everyday either with rice flour so to attract ants, birds, and other small insects for a meal – a harmonious coexistence with man. Patterns in kolam are drawn with dots and the lines that go around them forming intricate designs or they could also be free-hand motifs of fish, birds, and other animals. They are also drawn with chalk powder, limestone, red brick, turmeric or sandalwood paste. “Rangoli” form of kolam is made with riot of colors. “Athapookalam” of Kerala uses fresh flowers for kolam. Pregnant or menstruating women are barred from this drawing kolams.


These interconnected overtones tell one thing – we are so different yet alike – across linguistic, religious, cultural, physical, social, political, ideological and national boundaries, there is some core commonality that links us all. Both the similarities and differences bring us together. Love and travel can bring this wide, universal outlook 😉

E pluribus unum!

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