Breaking Barriers: Kolam Competition for Domestic Helps on the ECR

Residents of the Seashore Town at Panaiyur along Chennai’s East Coast Road made their Pongal celebrations special by holding a Kolam competition for their support staff who help the 450 families living in the community. The idea was to honour and nurture their talent and creativity. 

The community provided all supplies for the competition. All 11 avenues of this posh neighbourhood leading to the beach turned into a carpet of traditional kolams and rangoli as 52 members including domestic helps, cooks, drivers and security guards signed up. Others helped the contestants.

Malar, a young woman worker is thrilled. Her traditional dot kolam won the first place. She received a cash prize of one thousand rupees and a sari. Malar said “The competition was a great experience. We had presented a floral design, though we began as a star design.” 

The competition also saw a senior citizen, Jayanthi vying for top honours. “I am so happy I received a prize. I never used to participate in such competitions at my village.”

For 37-year-old V Saradha, the competition is “An indication of the community’s sense of respect for the support staff”. She added “We never expected this. It was fun. We loved it.” Munyamma a cook who had taken up work only a couple of months ago felt “It’s a nice gesture to organise such events for us. I felt happy,”.

R Pavithra and Bhavana, daughters of Amsa, a housekeeping staff bagged third prize under the traditional kolam category. Pavithra, a BCA student, who aspires to become an IT professional told “I loved being a part of it. We used the the given time fully and drew a “chikku kolam” with peacocks around.”

"I loved being a part of it. We used the the given time fully and drew a "chikku kolam" with peacocks around." says Pavithra, an aspiring IT professional.

Three others received cash prizes. There was also a lucky dip for two saris. All participants received Rs 200 as participation prize. 

Besides nurturing their creativity, confidence and a sense of belongingness,  residents say the aim was also to take art to the masses, breaking barriers. “Kolam is almost becoming a dying art form. Moreover art need not be restricted merely to the elitist, urban or a niche group. Involving our support staff was inclusiveness  at its best” explained Ms Andal Rajaram, Vice President of the Seashore Town.

This is the sixth year  the community has organised this event for the team that works for them. “We usually have the competition as a cluster at one place but since last year we have it outside every house to comply with COVID SOP” explained Ms Visalakshi Vaidheeswaran the organiser. 

Sisters, R Pavithra and R Bhavana, won the third prize under traditional kolam category. Pavithra, a BCA student, aspires to become an IT professional. Their mother Amsa, works in the community.

Encouraged by the response and the joy this brings to their helpers, the Seashore Town community now plans to host a sports meet  for their support staff next year. 

Though the harvest festival of Pongal celebrates the role of farmers, this community in an metropolitan city has turned it around to honour people who help them through the year. 


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