Alpana, the form of Rangoli practiced in Bengal, is a natural representation of the artistic sensibility of the people. Practiced usually by the womenfolk of the state, the art form represents an amalgamation of the past experience as well as the contemporary designs. Even though the basic designs are more or less same, new forms and new colors are being tried on a large scale. The changing moods of the seasons are also very much reflected in the Alpana designs of India. The patterns are made with the help of a small piece of cloth drenched in a blend of powdered rice.
Making of Alpana patterns is a part of the rituals in the numerous vratas (fasts) kept by the Hindu women of Bengal. They beautify the whole house and paint the floor with Alpana art, drawing designs passed on from one generation to the other. Bengalis also make use of the Circular Alpana as a holy pedestal while worshipping a deity, especially at the time of Lakshmi Puja. The basis of the word 'Alpana' has two different versions. As per one version, it originated from the Sanskrit word 'Alimpana', meaning 'to plaster with' or 'to coat with'. The other version traces its roots to the word 'Alipana', meaning the art of making ails or embankments.
The origin of the Alpana art form is very difficult to trace. Some authorities believe that the vratas with which Alpana is associated can be traced to pre-Aryan times. The ascetics living in the country before the Aryans are said to have passed on this art form to the future generations. One can also find detailed mention of Alpana paintings in the later works like Kajalrekha. All the ritualistic and traditional folk arts of Bengal, including Alpana, are believed to have been used by the agricultural communities of the region for driving out evil spirits. The art form of Alpana has been used since ages for religious and ceremonial purposes and is usually done on the floor.
Making of Alpana
Alpana designs are drawn with the help of rice-powder, diluted rice paste, powdered colors (produced from dried leaves), charcoal, burnt earth, etc. Materials like colored chalk, vermilion, flower petals, grains, etc, are also used to decorate the designs. The motifs usually comprise of sun, ladder, leg of goddess Lakshmi, owl, fish, betel, rice stem, lotus, plough, sindur box, etc. Presently, Alpana patterns seem to be influenced by Santiniketani style of art.