The art of creating very large pictures
on floor, with coloured powders have been in vogue for ages as a ritual art form. It is typically Indian as it is a harmonic blend of Arian, Dravidian and Tribal traditions. As an art form it has found a significant place among our rich spectrum of fine arts. In most other parts of India this art exists as a domestic routine of Hindus, who consider it auspicious to draw certain patterns at the door step and courtyard to welcome a deity into the house. It is called by names like Rangoli, Kolam etc.
Kalamezhuthu is unique form of this art found only in Kerala. Here it is essentially a temple art. The patterns to be drawn and the colours chosen are traditionally stipulated, and the tradition is strictly adhered to.
Kalams are drawn in connection with the worship of Devi, Naga and Sastha. Certain variations of the rituals are found in Tantric rituals too. In each case the patterns, minutest details, dimensions and colour choice are mandatory and not arbitrary. The patterns vary considerably depending on the occasion, but rarely by the choice of the artist. Even the order of creation is laid down.
The drawing is done directly with the hand, that is, without using any tools whatsoever. The powders used are all natural (Vegetable or Mineral or combined). The usual items used are: Rice (white), Turmeric (yellow), Charcoal from paddy husk (black), blend of Turmeric powder and Lime (red) and powdered leaves (green). Although several leaves are found suitable, the most commonly used are those of Albizzia lebbek
The drawing of the large picture develops gradually about a central line, drawn with the black powder. Sketching, if done, is also with powder only. The coloured picture is developed patch by patch, growing outward.
Usually Kalamezhuthu is conducted as part of the general festivities in the temple, or as part of a major ritual like Nagapuja. The rituals related to the Kalam are performed by the artists themselves, usually the traditional drummers. Offerings like rice and other grains are heaped in appointed places in and around the drawing and the room is decorated with flowers, leaves and garlands. Lighting is of utmost importance in these rituals. Only oil lamps are used. Singing hymns in praise of the deity is the most important part of the ritual. The type of songs vary
considerably (from folk to classical) depending on the deity being worshipped. The drawing starts at appointed time and shall be erased immediately after the rituals related to the Kalam are over.