Alpana – the white patterns or designs in Bengal



The unique white designs in the houses in Bengal and those drawn during festivals, pujas, marriages and vrats attract even a casual onlooker. The white designs known as Alpana are found on the patio, floors and walls and on large pots and vessels. Rice, the staple food of Bengal, is the medium used in Alpana and the motifs are created mainly by women. The technique of painting using the white flour is referred as gunrichitra or dhulichitra. The designs are quite similar to the kolams or rangoli in South India.

The white paste created from rice symbolically represents wealth, prosperity and grace or Goddess Lakshmi. The motifs primarily consists of flowers, fruits, leaves, branches, vegetables and other ideas handed down through generations and those inspired by Mother Nature.

How to make the powder for Alpana?
‘Atap’ rice, non-parboiled form of rice, is used to make the powder. The short-grained variety of ‘Atap’ is the widely used one. The rice is soaked in water to soften for 5 to 6 hours and it is then dried. The rice is then ground to a fine powder. This powder is used in Alpana.

How to draw or create Alpana?
The artist drawing the pattern will have a design in mind. The powder is held between the thumb and the index finger and is sprinkled on the ground to create the designs.

Another method of drawing is by creating a paste from the rice powder. The rice powder is mixed with water to create a thick paste. A small piece of paper or cloth is folded to form a wick and is dipped in the rice paste to draw various designs.

Occasionally, colored dyes are also added to the white paste.

The designs are drawn on wood, earthen floors and terracotta. They are left to be dried and when dried the designs show up vividly.

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