The earliest mythological reference of a Rangoli is found in Chitra Lakshana, a thesis on Indian paintings from the days of yore. According to this, a king and his subjects were extremely sad on the demise of the only son of their high priest. Everybody offered prayers to Lord Brahma, the creator for returning the life of the boy. Lord Brahma was moved by the collective mourning and requested the King to draw a picture of the dead boy on the floor in his likeness. On seeing the portrait, Lord Brahma put life in it, thus giving life to the boy once again and relieving the kingdom of its sorrow. This is considered to be the first reference of Rangoli or art on the floor.
Ramayana has reference to Rangolis too. It is said that people in Ayodhya painted rangolis to welcome Ram when he came back from his exile. It is also said that drawing colourful lines invites positive energy into the household and keeps the negative forces outside. Some people believe, that during the exile, when Lakhsman left Sita to go in search of Ram, he is supposed to have drawn such lines, to keep the negative forces outside the line, what is better known as ‘Lakshaman Rekha’ – i.e. lines drawn by Lakshaman.
Another myth says that once upon a time there was a pious man by the name of Sudharma. A time came when he could not concentrate on his prayers and meditation. So he approached his guru, by the name of Rishi Vairata. The rishi suggested to him to go to a quarry nearby and ground some stones into powder. He was then advised to use that powder to paint religious designs outside his home at the doorstep. From then onwards he would get up early in the morning, have a bath and draw designs like the swastika, sun and the moon and other such symbols. Seeing a drastic change in his well-being, the neighbours too started the practice, and it is said that in many South Indian families the ladies still do this, except that they use rice flour, and the art form is known as Kolam.
The concept of Rangoli emerged from the very basic idea of Hinduism, care for all. In early days, Rangoli’s were drawn with ground rice flour. This enabled the ants and birds to come and feed on it, thus making their otherwise hard life that much easier. It was an ideal case of harmonious co-existence.
Over time the concept of Rangoli has evolved into a more intricate array of colours, or in combination of flowers, but the fact remains that it is still appealing to the eyes and to the guests who are welcome during festivals.