The Bengali Alpana (or Bengali Alpona) are colourful designs and paintings done on the floor or flat surface. It forms an integral part of religious rites of Bengal. It is most commonly known as “Rangoli” in other parts of India. Various simple and easy alpana designs are used in these paintings which perhaps have their origin in the ancient faith. The bengalis believed that through their alpana paintings they would be able to bring to life the desired expressed. Thus, a hunting expedition would be organized if they painted hunting scenes, the picture of a sheaf of corn would lead to a bumper crop and so on.
Behind the patterns in the alpana works lies the same faith, it is essentially a product of emotion more than any religious faith. Together with the faith in the power of magic, the bengali alpana designs also speak of fertility and are a continuation of ancient art and sculpture.
The Bengalis paint alpana designs during festivals such as Durga Puja, Saraswati Puja, Lakshmi Puja, etc. Alpanas are part of wedding ceremony and cultural programmes. Various motif designs can be seen in the bengali alpana.
The transition from hunting to farming led to a change of symbols and hence we have corn, plough creepers, household items and of course the foot marks of Lakshmi which, it is believed, will usher in prosperity.
Whether it be the alpana or the Nakshi Kantha, it is the same emotion at work and naturally the designs of the former are often seen occupying the central position in the latter. Perhaps the same faith in magic is not noticed in the Kantha designs and these are a little more secular. Also of course the Kantha designs last far longer than the alpana which is scubbed off once the occasion passes, to be painted again or a later occasion. Even with such differences, however the designs in both are essentially an expression of a woman’s wishes.
A special occasion in Bengali homes in Paush Sankranti. Simple and beautiful alpana rangoli designs are painted. It used to be a day of rejoicing. The whole house used to be cleaned and alpana used to fill the floors.
Related: Alpana designs picture gallery.
The bengali alpana patterns includes simple designs of Alpana such as :-
- fish playing about in the pond,
- old man and woman walking with baskets on their heads and backs,
- domestic animals like cows,
- candle light
- chariot with banner lotus,
- offering itself to God,
- various kinds of sweets,
In the evening the alpana on the tulsi mancha would be offered flowers, oil and vermilion, the conch-shell would be blown, and we would partake of the sweets which had been part of the offerings to the deity. The next day would begin with viewing the designs of alpana, followed by the ritual holy dip and entertaining the guests who would come with sweets. Even though the country has been partitioned, this tradition continues.
The alpana rangoli designs are painted on other occasions also. The alpanas painted in Dhaka on February 21 to remember the martyrs who fell to police bullets under the Pakistani regime as they championed the cause of the Bengali language are similar to the Nakshi Kanthas, the motif being the lotus and the borders decorated with the kalka.
Generally associated with religious rites as these are, the alpana is also a prayer for fulfillment of wishes while the Nakshi Kantha isn’t necessarily so as these are not made on any particular occasion. The Bengal Kantha is more an expression of happiness, sorrow and imagination and hence more living than the alpana. From an artistic point of view of course, the Bengali alpana designs matches the Kantha, as one can only marvel at what fingers can achieve with a bit of rice-paste.
Rabidnranath Tagore had great love for folk art.