Every morning, whether Thilagalakshmi Sridharan’s neighbours wait for milk packets and newspapers or not, they probably stare expectantly at her porch for opulent kolams.
A resident and native of Chennai, her passion for this art began when she was a young girl and has been growing over time. For each day of the Margazhi month, she has been drawing elaborate, colourful designs outside her home. “I spend an hour at it each day before I go to the office, but it’s not this intricate on a normal day,” she says.
Despite her full-time job at the Office of the Principal Accountant General as a senior accountant, Thilaga makes time to practice her rangoli patterns. “It’s very difficult to draw kolams given how packed my schedule is but I still make time because I love it so much. It is also a refreshing change between the work-home routine and prevents the mind from being idle,” she says. A disadvantage she faces, however, is the lack of space. She explains, “Many women like me face this difficulty because of residing in apartments. In my case, I stay in the first floor of an individual house and draw the kolams on the road. I have to run upstairs immediately after I finish to click pictures because hours of hard work will be destroyed in seconds if a vehicle runs over it!”
Thilaga stays with her husband, two daughters and a pet Dalmatian named Dice. “My family is my biggest source of support. They encourage me to innovate every day. I would initially post my designs on a common kolam group but some members there and my daughter said social media would give me a wider reach. The response I’ve received has been overwhelming and it motivates me to go on,” says Thilaga, who has more than 35,000 followers on Instagram and Facebook and close to 70,000 subscribers on YouTube.
When asked if she would pursue kolam drawing as a profession if given the choice, she replies, “I would love to, but my health wouldn’t permit because it’s very strenuous. However, I do go to my friends’ homes if they invite me to design rangolis for pujas or functions.”
She sources most of her colours from Parrys Corner but a particular powder all the way from Krishnagiri. “I fill in some patterns with this bright kavi podi, which I get from there, because I haven’t found it to be of great quality in the city. It’s only after I started using this powder that many of my friends said the kolams look alive. They felt like the reddish-orange pigment enhances the designs,” shares Thilaga. If this was not enough, it’s fascinating to note that she barely ever rehearses the patterns in advance — “Most of the kolams are spontaneous. I watch videos on YouTube or search for inspiration online whenever I’m free,” she notes. Sewing, crochet, knitting and quilling to making earrings are more hobbies this ‘all-in-all Azhagu Rani’ pursues. “Maybe I should find some new hobbies after retirement,” she jokes.