Seeking Meanings: Reading Symbolic Motifs in Mandana

The art form of Mandana is inspired by the wondrously wild and sprawling landscapes dotting the north Indian states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Found predominantly in the districts of Bharatpur, Bundi Jaipur, Alwar, Sawai Madhopur, Hadoti, Tonk etc. of Rajasthan, Mandana art has also often been identified as “Meena paintings” since its primary artists hail from the Meena community. Passed on across generations from word-of-mouth and hand-to-hand mentorship, this art form is unique in the fact that all its keepers are women! However, though womenfolk of the Meena community have come to embody the de facto face of Mandana, other communities like the Bhil, Shrimali Brahmans etc. also practise the same art, albeit with a different combination of colours and imagery. For instance, in southern parts of India, Mandana is called “Kolam,” similarly it is “Aripana” in Bihar, “Alpana” in West Bengal, “Rangoli” in Gujarat and Maharashtra, and “Chowk Purana” in Uttar Pradesh. 


Borrowing materials directly sourced from the environment, such as, cow dung, reddish mud, rati (a locally sourced clay), Khadiya (local white clay), rice flour, or lime which is then mixed with water, Mandans are usually drawn using either hands or brushes made of twigs, squirrel hair, date fronds, reed grass or even flat sticks frayed on one end via shar tools. Women typically cover their thumb and forefinger with a soft cloth to ensure stability and prevent smudges. One good look at a finished Mandana will reveal to the viewers, the almost mathematical precision, geometrical outlay, and accuracy with which lines upon lines are drawn. 

Although Mandanas are central to daily life, their creations are also dependent on occasions. From births, to festivals like Holi, Diwali, Teej, marriage unions, Mandana are tailored to suit all phases and moods of human struggles and victories. In Rajasthan, women etch these geometrical patterns all over walls, floors, chulas (the place where food is cooked), doors etc. The practice in Madhya Pradesh is, however, only restricted to floors. Despite these minor differences, the image, the cultural influences, the artwork itself is largely shared. Among the recurring motifs in Mandana, few that stand out the most are:

  1. The footprint or Paglya motif which is commonly found near entrances and thresholds of houses. Said to be depictive of the feet of Hindu gods Lakshmi and Vishnu, Paglya is understood to be symbolic of “making way” for the arrival of supernatural beings and general good energies. The footprints are always made in pairs in the poetic sense of one leg leading the other in a sort of rhythmic pattern. 
  1. Secondly, another motif representative of a chariot is popular. Since Mandanas were traditionally devotional-related, motifs were primarily influenced by beliefs. The chariot made in the shape of a square with intricate triangles and points all over, was made during a no moon day or Amavasya. The square is said to be a room/space where Lakshmi “resides” in, while the triangular points are illustrative of blooming four-petaled lotuses (another symbolic imagery in the Hindu iconography), 
  1. Four and eight-petaled lotuses are also constantly drawn, in fact, it is perhaps the most commonly drawn motif of Mandana art itself. In an artwork by Vidya Soni titled “Phoolon ka chowk”, the mandana resembles a flower in full-bloom. She explains its significance as a ritualistic art made by unmarried women to call upon a husband. 7 lamps (diyas) are placed on the petals and a pot with water is placed at the centre.
  1. Another motif is the peacock imagery. While birds, flowers, and other nature-inspired art is recurrent, peacocks being the king of birds, is a favourite motif. Assumed to be representative of Ganesha, the moor aids in bringing life to the art. 
  1. Other popular images are ritualistic ones such as the shubh manglik (a pictorial image of “good luck”) and Swastika. As per the words of one artist, the Swastika made in kitchen spaces specially, depicts the auspicious aura of Mars. 
  1. Regional goddesses like shaktakon are usually imagined as an intersection of two triangles. Artist Vidya Soni called one of her creations “Yah Shatakon ka Mandana '' which she states is generally drawn outside every door in a house to ward off evils. 
  1. Similarly, another artwork “Mandana of Kavalye” is drawn on the right-hand side of worship places. Adorned with coconuts, water, and rice, its symbolism speaks to a larger wish/prayer for abundance and blessing for the family. Mandanas made at the threshold are a bit special, in the sense that they are not repeated elsewhere in the house. Like the footprints, they are triangular in nature. Its presence in the front door invokes the respective households’ desire to live a healthy balanced life. 
  1. Concerning deity-motifs, another God Kuldevta (an important household deity especially in parts of Rajasthan) also is prominent. Deity Bhairunath to whom temples are dedicated to, also figures in these mandana illustrations. 
  1. One major festival where varieties of mandana are drawn is the Hindu festival of Holi. Widely celebrated as a time where “good wins over evil”, mandanas catering to this very sentiment are common. Called “Holi ka Mukut (“crown”)”, this mandana has eight points in a rectangular shape. On the outer wall, 4 coconuts are placed. Over the course of the holiday, young boys from the village crack them all. 
  1. An interesting mandana in a circular shape with weaving motifs is made on Diwali (another major Hindu festival). According to master artist Vidya Soni (who’s artistic renderings forms the basis of most Mandana analyses), these artworks (“Dev Deepak ka Chowk” or “Diye/Diya ka Chowk”) in ancient times were made on the thresholds of Tulsi ji’s main temple situated in the village of Rawale. People from all over the village/town would visit the temple and offer their gratitude. Additionally, lamps were lit in every household by womenfolk to commemorate and express reverence to Goddess Lakshmi. 
  1. In the Kartik months (October to November), women place lamps on mandanas made in the lotus motif generally understood as Goddess Lakshmi’s favourite flower. 
  1. Lastly, since the practitioners of Mandana are women, it is no wonder that the art and the artist’s lives are deeply connected and entwined. For instance, while creating a mandana titled “Athwe”, artist Soni mentioned that this particular art was made for women in their eight month of pregnancy. Women would sit in the centre of the chowk while family members and in-laws come and worship her like a deity almost! Sweets, food, and other offerings mark the importance of this ritual. 

The motifs listed above are still dominantly present in Mandana art imaginations, yet, with passing time, it is evident that ‘newer’ elements are being added. For the Meena community, Mandana art has also become a vehicle for self-expression and income, especially with regards to women. With traditional backdrops changing to urban settings – for example, one wonders if cement walls can rightfully incorporate Mandana art traditionally drawn on mud walls and floors — art will have to reinvent itself while remaining true to its core principles. The art scene of Mandana like other Indian folk art is one that is ambiguous yet still surviving against odds. One hopes that Mandana art continues to find patronage within wider audiences just as much as its artisans devote themselves to its making. 


  1. Mandana paintings: This artist is struggling to keep the tradition alive - Hindustan Times
  3. SWOT Analysis of Mandana: Folk Art of Rajasthan



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