Bindu Reddy is passionate about Indian culture and heritage.
Every Saturday, Reddy, the organizer and champion behind the non-profit Evanston Association of Indians, teaches a free class at Evanston Public Library to help American children of Indian descent learn Hindi, the official language of India and the most widely spoken and understood language in the country.
About once a month, she also schedules classes parents can join too in activities such as yoga, dance, cricket, clay work, music and movies. Recently she introduced her students to the art of rangoli, a word that comes from the Sanskrit “rangavalli” and means “rows of color.”
Normally, rangoli would be drawn and designed outside, but the rain shifted the class to inside the children’s section of the library’s main branch without carpet — the perfect spot for potentially messy art activities.
Reddy elaborated on the origin and purpose of rangoli, explaining that it’s “a 7,000-year-old Indian folk floor art where colored rice powders and mostly organic materials like grains, turmeric, flower extracts and limestone are used to create auspicious designs outside the front door.” In different parts of India, the art form is called other names, depending on the location. Rangoli is the term used in the Gujarat and Maharashtra areas of India.
While the names referring to the art may vary, it is practiced throughout the country’s villages similarly, usually early in the morning each day. In India, girls and women are usually the ones designing the rangoli, but sometimes boys and men will participate. The front of the home is swept clean and then the rangoli is assembled. It serves as a good omen and is a sign of welcome to the home, according to Reddy.
She learned how to do rangoli by watching her grandmother and mother. Rangoli can be simple or elaborate, large or small. For holidays or special occasions like a wedding, a family might design a very large and elaborate rangoli.
As a child, Reddy learned to start with a grid of dots and build out her design from that foundation. She showed the Saturday group how to work from a grid and use photos to guide their work. Reddy sat with each team of artists and showed them how to add white borders to the brightly colored shapes. She made it look easy as she delicately but firmly applied the white rice flour to the designs.
Reddy said the custom is to wash the previous rangoli away the next morning and begin a new design. Indians, she said, are comfortable with the temporary nature of this art. Every day represents new beginnings and a new rangoli.
Everyone is welcome to participate in the association’s activities; you don’t need to be Indian to learn Hindi or design rangoli, Reddy said.