Rajasthan mandana, "Adorning the floors for Diwali" — part 5

During Diwali, houses are renovated, mud houses are repaired, the thatched roofs are redone. Walls, courtyards, cooking hearths, inner rooms, pillars, doorways are decorated with mandana, and women draw inspiration from various sources.

Rajasthan mandana, "Adorning the floors for Diwali" — part 5

Mandana paintings also known as chowk, vary according to regions, festivals, and communities in Rajasthan. Diwali/Deepavalli celebrated in the month of Kartika (mid-October to mid-November) is an important occasion in all Hindu homes. During Diwali, houses are renovated, mud houses are repaired, the thatched roofs are redone. Walls, courtyards, cooking hearths, inner rooms, pillars, doorways are decorated with mandana, and women draw inspiration from various sources.

Coating and painting the ground

Before adorning the floors with mandana, the women prepare a primer with dung, water, and clay to which light or dark yellow ochre is added. After a few days of drying, the liming is now ready.

Spreading the mixture of dung, water, and clay
Covering up the previous year's mandana
Spreading the mixture of dung, water, and clay

To paint, they use a section of a date palm leaf’s midrib (khajur) which works as a reservoir as it is fibrous. My guide tells me that sometimes the end of a braid is used as a brush. After a few days, the liming is ready and the horizontal surfaces offer themselves to the graphic incantations of the women who often perform in groups. They guide the milky liquid in a multitude of broken, oblique, and curved parallel lines, revealing the background ochre. For a moment, the white hesitates between transparency and opacity, but the translucent pallor is quickly replaced by a radiant presence that captures the light to become matter.

A section of a date palm leaf’s midrib (khajur) which works as a reservoir as it is fibrous.

First and foremost, there are flowers, all kinds of imaginary flowers to embellish the space. The repertoire of earth diagrams includes floral motifs with four to eight petals. A six-petalled flower (shahphulya) suggests the lotus-shaped throne of Goddess Lakshmi. There are also everyday objects like the beejani or hand fan, the cross-shaped checker-board strategy game called chaupad. The women are also influenced by their immediate environment such as the amazing architecture of the baoli or stepwells flanked by vertiginous stairs leading to water. The swastika, commonly known as sathiya, is used in many designs as it is intrinsically auspicious.

Imaginary flowers
Imaginary flowers
Eka phula chhah kali or a six petalled flower with six buds and half flowers, Bundi region, Rajasthan

Beejani/bijani hand fan

Before the advent of electric fans and air-conditioned rooms, the hand fan was the only instrument to beat the heat and still is in rural areas. A beejani/bijani/pankhi is an Indian hand fan that originated in ancient times and was used in courts and royal houses and in religious ceremonies to fan deities. We owe the survival of these fans to the women who make them.

Beejani mandana
Beejani mandana
Beejani mandana
Beejani mandana

Chaupad, the Indian strategy game

The chaupad is an Indian game made of wool, embroidered cloth or block printed in the center of a jajam; a traditional cotton floor spread used for community gatherings or family ceremonies on which people could play on the printed chaupad.

Hand block printed chaupad game created by Wabisabi project 

The word literally means four arms for the playing surface. In the 19th century, the game arrived in America through John Hamilton and was known as parcheesi. In 1914, it reached Europe and became the "Ludo" game introduced by Josef Friedrich Schmidt, a Munich-games manufacturer.

The chaupad is also said to be linked to a section of the great Indian epic Mahabharata, where Yudhishthira of the Pandava clan loses his kingdom in a game of dice to King Duryodhana of the Kaurava clan. It is said that the chaupad was already played in the Indus Valley around 2,300 BC, as the game uses the same type of long rectangular dice that have been found at various Indus Valley civilisation sites.

Devidasa of Nurpur - Metropolitan Museum of Art - Shiva and Parvati playing chaupad, c. 1694–95
Chaupad chowk (chaupad ki chowk)
Chaupad chowk (chaupad ki chowk)
Chaupad chowk (chaupad ki chowk)

Baoli/bawadi, the stepwell

Stepwells in India known as baoli, bawadi, or baori as the name suggests are wells with perfectly symmetrical steps leading to the water and reminiscent of an inverted fortress. Many reservoirs were commissioned by local rulers and built near temples and mosques for religious, ritual and practical usages.

Chand Baori, Rajasthan 

Some baoli are architectural gems from different eras and are adorned with galleries and balconies. Dug up deep into the earth, the structure ensured the availability of water during periods of drought. Most of them have crumbled into obscurity, are abandoned, in ruins, dried up or covered with waste. Restoring and revitalising stepwells would help people to reclaim their traditional resources and community living spaces.

Balcony at Adalaj Stepwell, Ahmedabad, Gujarat
The stepwell pattern (baoli/baori/bawadi ka chowk)
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Creating a mandana inspired by the stepwell pattern (Bawadi ka chowk)

The auspicious swastika

The swastika pattern known also as sathiya is an auspicious symbol for Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists. The Sanskrit word swastika derives from su "good" and asti "being".

While some consider the right-handed swastika to be the Northen course of the Sun god, others see it as the image of the elephant god Ganapathi. Still others see in the four arms, the cardinal points, the four castes, the four stages of life: (student, householder, retirement, and renunciation). Many rituals and ceremonies begin and end with the drawing of a swastika using rice flour or turmeric paste. After the Second World War, given the extent of the Nazi crimes, swastika vanished gradually as a decorative pattern in Europe. Before the rise of Nazism, the symbol had no negative connotation but today for obvious reasons, the sight of a swastika stills triggers strong reactions and is even forbidden in some countries including Germany. However, and according to the German Criminal Code, the swastika may be displayed if it is used for civic education, art and science, research and education, the coverage of historic and current events. Despite its infamy, the swastika retains its importance in Indian culture and in southeast Asia.

The once popular swastika in Western countries
Swastika mandana for Diwali, Jodhpur region, Rajasthan
Swastika pattern mandana
Swastika pattern mandana


Story to be followed...

Previous articles:

Rajasthan mandana, "Preparing Diwali at Lakshmi's home" — part 2

Rajasthan mandana , "Bundi and nearby villages" — part 3

Rajasthan mandana, "Villages around Bundi" — part 4