Artist, writer and art researcher, Chantal Jumel from Burgundy, France, is a regular visitor to Chennai during the Margazhi season. An ardent follower of music, dance and culture, Chantal has yet another fascination — kolams. Talking to DC about her enchantment for the art, Chantal says, “I also do freelance research on Indian art. When I was younger, I had learnt Kathakali and Mohiniyattam under Krishnan Nair from Kalamandalam. During my stay in Kerala, I became interested in the floor paintings called Kalamezhuthu. This ancient art form is still being done in temples and ancestral homes in Kerala. In my neighbourhood, there were a few Tamil Brahmins who introduced me to kolams, and then began my fascination.”
Chantal has also written two books in French — one on Kalamezhuthu and Voyage Dans l’Imaginaire Indien, which is about kolams and the stories and sentiments attached to it. “Once, a woman told me that making chikku kolams (where twisted patterns go around the dots) will lead to many complications in the household. But there was another person who said if we are gifted to do these intricate kolams, we will also be able to face the hardships in life. Such interesting stories have been documented in this book.” Apart from this, the book also talks about festivals like Pongal, and how flora and fauna is incorporated in the kolam art.
Chantal has been visiting Chennai for Margazhi for the past six years. “I love dance and follow Carnatic music. So, this is the perfect time for me to attend kutcheris and catch up with fellow kolam enthusiasts in the city.”
She brims with excitement when we ask her about the kolam scene in Chennai during Margazhi. “In Mylapore, I find women of the household making large ones. Just yesterday, I spoke to someone who told me that she starts working on her kolam right from the night before to complete it in the early morning! After each visit here, I think I have seen it all, but every time, there is a new discovery,” says Chantal, who humorously admits that she hasn’t had the courage to participate in the kolam contests herself.
To Chantal, visiting Chennai is like homecoming. “I really can’t say what I take away from Chennai. I feel like I’m both French and Indian. Every time I’m here, I experience a mix of generosity and kindness. There are people here who take time to share precious things about their tradition and culture, I’m left with want of words” she says as a concluding note....