Alpana is a form of rangoli which is widely practiced in Bengal. It represents the artistic taste of the people of West Bengal. Over a period of time, the alpana rangoli has evolved as an amalgamation of the contemporary and conventional designs. The tradition of drawing Alpana rangoli has passed on from one generation to another. The basic designs are the same with new additions being done to it every time. The word Alpana has two different forms. As per the first form, the word finds it origin in the Sanskrit word ‘Alimpana’ which means ‘to coat with’ or ‘to plaster with’. The other word from which Alpana has been derived is ‘Alpiana’ which means the art of making embankments. This is generally drawn on floor.
The form of art usually marks the beginning of the auspicious journey. It welcomes peace, prosperity, health, happiness and wealth in the house. It is generally drawn on birthdays, wedding anniversaries, house warming ceremonies etc. All the happy occasions mark their beginning with the rangoli.
The Alpana patterns are drawn by the women of the house when they keep fasts (vratas) in Bengal. The floor of the whole of house is painted with Alpana art. The changing seasons are well reflected in the patterns of Alpana. During Laxmi Puja, a special circular form of Alpana is drawn as a holy pedestal for the deity. The vratas which are associated with Alpana originated in the Pre- Aryan period. Details of Alpana rangoli can be found in the works like kajalrekha.
Originally, Alpana was drawn by girls to decorate the floors, door fronts and the places before the idols. Slowly it has formed an important part of any pooja, function and ceremony. The agricultural community of Bengal uses Alpana to drive out the evil spirits and keep the bad omen away from their home.
The elegant and beautiful Alpana rangoli is made from diluted rice paste, burnt earth, charcoal, powdered colours (made from dried leaves) and rice powder. Vermilion, chalk, grains and petals are also being used to decorate the design. The most common colour of Alpana rangoli is white, but we find some decent usage of red and green colour in few designs. The white colour is generally due to the rice powder or any other white coloured substance being used such as chalk powder or any other white coloured drawing medium. Green colour is done by the tree leaves and red colour is made by sindur. In today’s time the Santiniketan style of art is clearly visible in the Alpana patterns. The different shapes and items which are drawn with this form of alpana include the swastika, sun, a plough, a ladder, a lotus, betel and shankhlata (snake). Alpana is now used to decorate and enhance the beauty of show pieces such as brass plates, pots. This makes the items visually attractive and pleasing to the eyes. To add to the beauty and elegance of alpana rangoli one can accessorise it with candles, diyas, flowers and other beautifying objects.