Out for a stroll in the village of Dhela in Ramnagar, in Uttarakhand’s Nainital district, I saw a young woman engrossed in creating a pattern on the floor at the entrance to a house. The style, the composition and her meticulous handwork piqued my interest. She was using just two colours, red and white, to make religious motifs, repetitive geometric patterns and nature-inspired elements, which seemed to have a distinctive local flavour.

I continued watching as her artwork grew to fill the entire floor that the door opened on to. She deftly dipped three fingers in one of the two earthen bowls lying next to her to draw the patterns. Once she finished, I asked her about it and learnt that for the Kumaoni, aipan, the mural she was making, is a form of devotional art.

Derived from the word arpan (dedication), the act of creating an aipan, a traditional art form associated with fortune and fertility, is akin to making an offering to god. The background is prepared with red clay, called geru, and the designs are created with a white paste made from rice flour. Traditionally, aipan making is the domain of women, who use it to decorate places of worship, house entrances and front yards. Auspicious occasions are considered incomplete without the drawing of fresh aipan and different motifs are used on specific occasions. Some bring good fortune, others seek blessings from the lord, or pray for fertility. Patterns are often handed down through families, from mother to daughter. One of the most popular is that of holy feet symbolizing Goddess Lakshmi. Other popular patterns include chowki, mandap and kalash, complemented with natural elements like flower, birds and fish.

In recent years, local artists and entrepreneurs have been using aipan designs on souvenirs for visitors, like cloth bags, wooden trays, handmade paper notebooks, etc., which can be bought at local stores.

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