The Art of Floor Paintings in India

One of the fondest memories from my childhood is Diwali celebration at my ancestral home in Himachal. What I remember most distinctively is the ‘aipan’ that my ma, chachis and tais used to make near Tulsi in the central courtyard of the house. A huge square of red was prepared as a base with red powder mixed in water and then an intricate design was drawn with rice powder. It was connected to the Puja room and all other rooms with feet of Lakshmi on it. Every first day of the month (as per Indian calendar) called sagrand in pahadi was also welcomed by these beautiful floor paintings. I try to follow this tradition in my city home. Though I don’t do it so elaborately, it makes me feel nostalgic and takes me back to my roots.

Floor Paintings are one of the most ancient and striking art forms of India. It’s interesting to see the regional variations in designs, patterns, material used and frequency. These ancient ritual arts are known by different names across India: aipan in Himachal and Uttarakhand, alpona in Bengal and Assam, aripana in Bihar, pakhamba in Manipur, jinnuti in Orissa, mandana in Rajasthan, rangoli in Maharashtra, sathia in Gujarat, chowkpurana or sona rakhna in Uttar Pradesh, kolam in Tamil Nadu, and muggulu in Andhra Pradesh. It is made from colours, flowers, grains, sand, rice powder and even turmeric powder. Apart from forms and colours, floor paintings also vary in frequency and occasions in which they are prepared.

Like Kolam in Tamil Nadu is done as an everyday ritual and is made to welcome guests, an announcement that the house is alive and inviting. Every kolam is a rich tapestry of parallel and curvy lines criss-crossing each other creating intricate patterns.  Unlike kolam, Alpona is occasional and covers a larger area in front of the house and can be in any shape. Alpona is a beautiful medley of a wide range of motifs and designs made during festivals and auspicious occasions.


Aipan in Himachal and Kumaon region of Uttarakhand traditionally starts and ends with a dot, right at the centre of the drawing, that symbolises the centre of the universe. Everything outside is originated from that centre. Geometric figures, swastikas, footsteps of goddess, or other such drawings are very commonly seen in Aipan.  The base is made of red ochre mud known as geru and the patterns are drawn by solution made of rice.

Mandana in Rajasthan has non geometrical motifs of tigers, monkeys, peacocks, cats and are drawn with white chalk or limestone on floors and walls plastered with red clay. The most common design is a triangle with floral borders, called as the ‘Lakshmi’s feet’, a symbol of prosperity.


Though each region or state has its own floor paintings, there are also a few commonalities that bind them together. They are used as welcoming signs at the entrance of the house, for a guest must be welcomed with grace and elegance. Beauty being equated with godliness, it is also the symbol of good omen and is associated with keeping away evil and protecting the home. This tradition has been passed down from mothers to daughters for thousands of years and forms a common thread that unites the innumerable cultures of India.
The rituals like these have enriched the fabric of our daily lives through generations and now the onus is on us to keep them alive.
Sources: Chitrolekha Journal on Art and Design & India Times

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