Kolam: What The Hand Said

Kolam: What The Hand Said

is this:

KolamAscher_smallWe here, and that man, this man,
and that other in-between,
and that woman, this woman,
and that other, whoever,

those people, and these,
and these others in-between,
this thing, that thing,
and this other in-between, whichever

all things dying, these things,MalekulaBoy_small
those things, those others in-between,
good things, bad things,
things that were, that will be,

being all of them,
he stands there.

The God in Nammalvar’s hymn (or rather, A. K. Ramnujan’s translation of it [9, pp. 120-121]) is a god of thresholds. The threshold is of enormous interest to the Tamils. For example, the classical corpus of Tamil poetry is traditionally divided into akam (interior) poems and puram (exterior) poems [10]. The kolam is but one of the many manifestations of that interest

Marcia Ascher’s description of the kolam is succinct and mostly accurate:

Traditionally, the women of Tamil Nadu, in southeastern India, sweep their thresholds every morning, sprinkle them with a solution of cow dung and water and cover the area with elaborate, symmetrical figures using rice powder. They trickle the rice powder in a stream between their middle and index fingers, using their thumbs to guide the flow of the powder. According to tradition, the cow dung cleans and purifies the ground, and using the rice powder begins the day with an act of kindness by providing food for ants and other insects. Girls learn this kolam ritual from their female relatives, and kolam skills are viewed as a mark of grace and as a demonstration of dexterity, mental discipline and ability to concentrate. [1]

It is doubtful whether kolams are geometrical acts of kindness. It’s also doubtful whether kolams are purificatory acts. They could be; most things are usually lots of things. There are a great many ways to purify something in Indian tradition, but kolams are unique, more or less, to south India. What do the kolam-artists say when they’re asked why they draw these gorgeous graphs?

Fortunately, the anthropologist Lance Nelson asked that very question in his recent doctoral study of the kolam tradition [7]. One of his respondents from Thilaikkudi village in Thanjavur District, a women in her fifties, explained that:

Bhumi Devi [earth goddess] is our mother. She is everyone’s source of existence. Nothing would exist without her. The entire world depends on her for sustenance and life. So, we draw the kolam first to remind ourselves of her. All day we walk on Bhumi Devi. All night we sleep on her. We spit on her. We poke her. We burden her. We do everything on her. We expect her to bear us and all the activities we do on her with endless patience. That is why we do the kolam. [7, pp. 273]

It seems almost churlish to question the matter further. Yet, I can’t help wondering. Why draw geometrical figures to thank someone? Why not chant a simple prayer or two? Why not heap a pile of rice if the intent is to feed ants and insects (wouldn’t the ants prefer a heap as opposed to trudging alone a maze)? Why aren’t people in the Eastern, Western, and Northern parts of India driven by a similar sense of remorse and gratitude? Why is the Ganges — equally beloved and equally abused — not thanked in a similar manner. What makes Bhumi-devi special? Besides, if gratitude is the point of the  performance, why allow it to be summarily destroyed by the first person to cross the threshold? Indeed, why draw it on the threshold at all?

In particular, take a second look at the boy (figure above) drawing graphs in the sand. The boy’s from Malekula, the second-largest island of Vanuatu. He, like the women of Tamil Nadu, is also engaged in an ancient performance. Why are their drawings so similar?

The Republic of Vanuatu is an archipelago, about 1000 miles east of Australia; it is so small an entity that on most maps it is just a half-hearted pixel blurThat all changed recently. The “Islands of Fire” was the setting for one of CBS’s Survivor shows (apparently, it was taken for granted that the locals would survive the visitors).†. Malekula was the subject of intense anthropological interest during the threshold years of the last century. The reasons go a little deeper beyond the usual anthropological obsessions with bizarre kinship-structures, weird religions and tribal routes to sex (Marvin Gaye, 50 proof alcohol, lots of talk, sometimes even a little dancing). It had been realized that the MelanesianThe term that includes, among others, people from Fiji, New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands sand drawings and associated myths had an uncanny resemblance to the labyrinth patterns and associated myths found in Crete, Central Africa, Scandinavia, Ireland and Scotland. It was the complex of parallels — not just similarity in diagrams — that was intriguing. For some still poorly understood reason, megalithic cultures (roughly 1000 – 300 B.C.E) seem to have settled on the labyrinth as the key to the spiritual control of thresholds.

Laynard KolamsConsider this example taken from the work of the British anthropologist John Layard (1891–1974), the man responsible for triggering most of the interest in Malekula [4,5]. The “tic-tac-toe” figure on the left is from Malekula; the one of the right is a tattoo pattern from Tamil NaduIn India, tattoos are usually part of “tribal” culture; body paintings in the mainstream Hindu culture are usually of a non-permanent sort (mehndi, kajal, henna, sandalwood paste caste marks).  However, tattoo designs are often used as kolam patterns.. Layard thought the Tamil Nadu design “technologically degraded” as compared to the one from Malekula; the latter is a true maze, is produced by a single line and looks more complicated on the whole. Perhaps the “tic-tac-toe” pattern is just a coincidence; after all, it is only a variant on the basic idea of the square. The square is, well, square. Very well. How about KolamMalekula2_smallthis figure then, also taken from one of John Layard’s papers [4]? Ignore the horizontal and vertical dimension lines; they were added by Bernard Deacon, from whom Layard copied the drawing. The object on the left is from Malekula; the one on the right is the “pavitram” kolam. As such, the two figures are not identical. For example, the Malekula design can be obtained from a single line, the one from Tamil Nadu is made up of three sets of lines. But it’s curiously similar. It’s as if one figure is a remembered version of the other. The connection between kolams and Malekula sand-figures was not noticed by Layard (who was unaware of the existence of kolams), but by F. A. Richards. The latter had heard about the Malekulan figures at a meeting of the Cambridge Anthropological Club in 1927; he immediately sent Layard two Indian books filled with kolam diagrams. Also at that meeting was an Indian lady, one Mrs. Gnana Durai. In her words:

On October 19th, 1927, Dr. Haddon read a paper before the Cambridge Anthropological Club on the late Mr. A. B. Deacon’s investigations in Malekula, in which he referred to and showed examples of the geometrical diagrams which Mr. Deacon had discovered in that island. This at once recalled to my mind that analogous diagrams are constructed every day among the Hindus of the Madras Presidency. [2]

This cross-cultural pattern recognition suggests that there is a similarity between the figures. In any event, the more significant aspect of these diagrams is what they represent to their respective cultures. In Malekula, the sand-diagrams represent labyrinths marking the boundary between the end of one life and the beginning of the next. Only men are reborn, and their rebirth is in their hands, so to speak. As John Layard puts it:

… the object of the [Egyptian] labyrinth was in the first place to exclude the uninitiated from participation in the life after death, and in the second to exclude non-fertile or unlucky influences from the royal nuptials.
In Malekula, these one-time royal rites have become democratized to include the whole male population. Here, the mortuary labyrinth has been reduced to a geometric design drawn in the sand by a female Guardian ghost. As the ghost of the dead man approaches (for men only can attain future life) she rubs out half the design. The dead man must complete the design and walk over it before entering the land of the dead.” [4, pp. 117]

Labyrinth_smallLayard argues that kolams retain much of this symbolism. They too are drawn on thresholds. They too are associated with transition stages, such as sunrise, birth, death and marriage ceremonies. It is the women who draw the kolams, and it is usually the man of the house who first walks over it, erasing what has just been drawn. Just as the physical mortuary labyrinth of Crete got abstracted out into a sand-figure representation in the Malekula culture, amongst the Tamil, the idea of the labyrinth got gradually displaced by the  even more abstract notion of threshold. The diagrams were retained, but the interpretations changed, so much so that the current explanations for why the kolam is drawn have no resemblance to the reasons of the Malekulan native.

There are many other connections as well. The word “kolam” refers to a kind of dance in Sri Lanka, one involving masks and complicated steps. The Malekula also have masked dances in which they play out the shapes of particular  sand-diagrams. So on and so forth. It really is an anthropological wet-dream.

Layard speculated, in passing, that both kolams and Malekula sand-diagrams were offshoots of a single megalithic culture, possibly of east or south-east asian in origin [4, pp. 118]. Recent genetic studies would seem to support this theory. Given the nature of genetic studies, the data could probably be tweaked to support almost any other hypothesis. For all we know, one of Thor Heyerdahl’s ancestors may have seeded the whole damn Melanesian world.

Of course, it’s always possible that disparate and widely distributed groups of people independently arrived at the same representations. Events and symbols are always perceived in the context of human space, human time and human experience. Who knows? Perhaps our common genetic heritage may well imply a compulsion for, say, labyrinth designs. In the threshold years of the last century, such compulsions were called archetypes, supposedly architectonic features of the human consciousness. John Layard himself became a Jungian psychologist in his later years.

Point is, even if human groups have very similar concerns (puberty, death, sex, etc.), there is no reason why they should reify similar representations to deal with those concerns. I find it much more likely that different groups of migrating people modified aspects of a once common belief system (“common” for historical — not psychological — reasons).

So it shouldn’t come as any great surprise that there are other cultures who’ve also institutionalized “sand-drawings.” The Navajo Indians (who learnt it from the Pueblo Indians) and the Chokwe in southwestern Africa (Angola, Zambia, Congo) are two outstanding examples. The Chokwe (pronounced, it seems, “chock-way”) have added the ingenious and elegant twist of telling stories as they draw the figures; the abstract diagram is the representation of a story [3].

SiromoneyGrammar_smallThe Chokwe sensed and practiced a mathematical truth. Every kolam is a sentence in some picture language. The mathematical study of kolams, initiated by the remarkable Dr. Gift Siromoney at Madras Christian College and his colleaguesBased on the references to kolams in the literature, Dr. Siromoney claimed that kolams were a relatively recent tradition, less than 500 years old. I think he was incorrect on this point. Kolams were a woman’s art, and as such, unlikely to have been of interest to male writers. For example, there are hardly any ancient/medieval Tamil books on the art of cooking or sweeping or washing clothes either. Siromoney is also unable to explain why women in south India — of all castes — should’ve suddenly developed a taste for abstract geometrical figures in the mid-15th century. Not only is Layard able to give an origins story, it also explains the puzzling, alternative meanings of the word “kolam” [4, pp. 178-180]., is based on the theory of cycle and matrix grammars [figure on right is from Dr. Rani Siromoney’s lecture slides]. One of the simplest of Siromoney’s grammars consists of “actions” such as “keep going”, “sharp left turn”, “sharp right turn”, “right U-turn”, “left U-turn”, and so on. By the repeated application of about seven actions in a proper sequence, most kolams, but not all, can be produced. To draw a kolam is to “speak” a sentence from a picture languageAs usual, all this “useless” research turned out to be useful for solving problems in DNA recombination and machine vision [see the Siromoney website for details]..

I’m glad to report the kolam tradition continues in Tamil Nadu. More or less. Traditionalists bemoan the introduction of stencils; the skill has been taken out of the tradition. There are dozens of different stencils; aeroplane kolams, sofa kolams, chariot kolams, you name it. Given unlimited rice-powder, ambition alone limits the imagination.

Untitled--pollock_yellow300-1949Can we end without invoking the greatest kolam artist of all? I refer to Jackson Pollock and his celebrated style of “action painting.” The artist has gone on record as saying that he was influenced by the sand drawings of the Navajo Indians [6]. Thresholds cannot exist without difference, and any difference creates a threshold. About Pollock and the art of indifference, the art critic Edward Levine wrote:

The experience of a painting by Pollock is almost totally unique in art. In his drip painting we sense the almost complete abolition of difference. All lines are equal in value, all parts practically interchangeable so that we have a painting without a dominant direction and without beginning or end. The fact that Pollock walks around and “into” his painting as it evolves is reflected in the lack of hierartic value in this work. Foreground and background, right and left, up and down are hardly distinguishable.” [6]

Poor mad Pollock. The erasure of difference ultimately necessitated his own self-erasure as well; the painter and the painting, something here and something there, this people and those people and others in-between… being all of them, and perhaps in the end, nothing at all.

References:

[1] Ascher, M.  The Kolam Tradition. American Scientist. 90(1). pp. 56. 2002.

[2] Durai, G. H. Preliminary Note On Geometrical Diagrams (Kolam) From The Madras Presidency. Man. Volume 29. May. 1929. pp. 77.

[3] Gerdes, P. Geometry From Africa: Mathematical And Educational Explorations. Mathematical Association of America. Washington, DC. 1999.

[4] Layard, J. Labyrinth Ritual In South India: Threshold And Tattoo Designs. Folklore. 48(2). 1937. pp. 115-182.

[5] Layard, J. Maze-Dances And The Ritual Of The Labyrinth in Malekula. Folklore. 47(2). 1936. pp. 123-170.

[6] Levine, E. Mythical Overtones In The Work of Jackson Pollock. Art Journal. 26(4). pp. 366-374. 1967.

[7] Nelson, L. E. Purifying the Earthly Body of God: Religion and Ecology in Hindu India. State University of New York Press. Albany, NY. 1998.

[8] Pingree, D. The Logic of Non-Western Science: Mathematical Discoveries in Medieval
India
. Daedalus. 132(4). 2003. pp. 45-53.

[9] Ramanujan, A. K. Collected Essays. Vinay Dharwadker, editor. Oxford India. 2004.

[10] Ramanujan, A. K. Poems of Love and War: From the Eight Anthologies and the Ten Long Poems of Classical Tamil. Columbia University Press. New York. 1985.

  • Shruthi

    Hi.. Very interesting write up! This has inspired me to do more reading on this topic…. by the way, this tradition continues in Karnataka too… it is called Rangavalli (Rangoli in Hindi)

  • Shruthi

    Hi.. Very interesting write up! This has inspired me to do more reading on this topic…. by the way, this tradition continues in Karnataka too… it is called Rangavalli (Rangoli in Hindi)

  • Thanks Shruthi. Rangoli seems to be more of an art form. Kolam-drawing has a lot of religious symbolism and rules associated with it. But I don’t know much about rangoli.

  • Excellent piece of research! In Andhra Pradesh, kolam is “muggu” (‘mu’ pronounced as in ‘murali’)& in Kerala, “kalam”. An observation: Kolam is not restricted to being drawn outside the house. In brahmin households, it also is drawn in front of the lord, in the puja room. Any act of disturbing it would be a sacrilege. This does seem to suggest some kind of a demarcation of the areas between the lord and the devotee,perhaps indicating a threshold.

  • Nice work. Thanks for a well researched and interesting article. It is interesting to see how this custom is practiced in different parts of India (mainly). The way I remember it, kolams are predominantly drawn using dots and lines only, while rangoli is free form with emphasis on colors.

  • Nagata Shojiro

    Very nice works
    I am also interested in the Stroke/knot patterns in the world.
    I made a software which allow us to draw them in animation
    Let’s enjoy Cycles(called PsyKolo) at
    http://intervision.aadau.net/
    and now
    Welcome to the Conference at
    http://wwwsoc.nii.ac.jp/form/62th-sympo.htm
    I wrote a chapter “Digitalization of Kolam Patterns
    and Tactile Kolam Tools (S Nagata & R Thamburaj )” in the book
    http://www.worldscibooks.com/compsci/6180.html
    -from Nagata Shojiro/InterVision Institute

  • Nagata, thanks for the links. I’d been looking for graphic tools. I wonder if 2-D projections of origami structures would result in kolam like patterns…

  • Uma

    Hi
    Check out my new blog on kolam
    http://www.kolam-sathya.blogspot.com
    Ur comments r welcome.

  • sita

    Hi
    I do kolams .&try to read ,as much as possible,about it.I came across the african variety in a childrens book on mathematical games published by Scholastic.&was intrgued by the way the same kolam that I do is also done in Africa&now thru your blog even in Vanuatu.-only the names seem different.Even within our country ,Kolams are done in almost all the states;only the materials used are different.They are also called Mandana(in Rajasthan,U.P.,M.P),alpana in bengal& bihar.I think it is the Kolams that influence the othr art forms -Tattoos(its not confined to tribals,all tamil hindus practise it-tho’ not prevalent now)Kasuti embroidery in Karnataka etc.From what I’ve read ,kolams seem to exist in Harrappan Times too.The swastic and the Shatkonam is common thru’ out india.It is considered the abode of Lakshmi&hence is not stepped on.The threshold is always crossed over not stepped on(the Narasimha legend).In our tradition it is also a device to show directions-esplly the east.I never cease to be amazed at the areas the Kolam seems to touch.I personally know it to be associated with the the field of psychology-I dont know if any research has been done to study the connection.By the way rangoli is also Kolam,but with colour.Thanks for the informative &interesting site.Regards
    Sita

  • Ref: Sita. Thanks for the additional info. I’m intrigued by your comment that kolams are associated with psychology. Care to elaborate?
    Kolams do seem to be ubiquitous. Based on the written Tamil corpus, Dr. Siromoney and his colleagues thought them to be of recent origin (~ 500 years). But that estimate is almost certainly wrong (for reasons described in the footnote).

  • sita

    Anil, Regarding kolams and Psych.-Ifirst came across a book by Dr. Reuven Feuerstein in 2002 titled “Dont accept me as I am”.It was about helping “retarded” people excel.in it I came across an excercise where the student is asked to find given shapes from dots scattered in the frame.The stellar arrangements into constellations was reported to be the inspiration for this exercise.I had attended a workshop on Instrumental Enrichment(the method developed by Dr. F’stein et al)to help people improve their mental potential conducted By his Institute & their Indian co-ordinators-the Alpha to Omega School for Learning Disabled.These methods are widely used to improve the mental functioning of the so called Mentally handicapped children(so called b’coz i believe all of us are handicapped in one way or other).Because of my familiarity with Kolams ,I realised that Kolams work in the same way as Organisation of Dots ,as the exercise is called by them.Many peoplwe in India while they are familiar with kolam dont realise the way it helps them think better.It improves our abilitty to think things/issues thru,analyse ,&synthesise information ,plan things,acquire -process-express information and also recall information ; in short it not only shows us the state of our intelligence/mind but also helps us to improve its functions by acting on the brain .It is about the way the brain processes information.May be one day i’ll write a paper on it.Your note tells me that not many people are aware of the connection.Hope this note clarifies your doubts.

  • sita

    Anil, Regarding kolams and Psych.-Ifirst came across a book by Dr. Reuven Feuerstein in 2002 titled “Dont accept me as I am”.It was about helping “retarded” people excel.in it I came across an excercise where the student is asked to find given shapes from dots scattered in the frame.The stellar arrangements into constellations was reported to be the inspiration for this exercise.I had attended a workshop on Instrumental Enrichment(the method developed by Dr. F’stein et al)to help people improve their mental potential conducted By his Institute & their Indian co-ordinators-the Alpha to Omega School for Learning Disabled.These methods are widely used to improve the mental functioning of the so called Mentally handicapped children(so called b’coz i believe all of us are handicapped in one way or other).Because of my familiarity with Kolams ,I realised that Kolams work in the same way as Organisation of Dots ,as the exercise is called by them.Many peoplwe in India while they are familiar with kolam dont realise the way it helps them think better.It improves our abilitty to think things/issues thru,analyse ,&synthesise information ,plan things,acquire -process-express information and also recall information ; in short it not only shows us the state of our intelligence/mind but also helps us to improve its functions by acting on the brain .It is about the way the brain processes information.May be one day i’ll write a paper on it.Your note tells me that not many people are aware of the connection.Hope this note clarifies your doubts.

  • Sita: Interesting…. But I’m skeptical. I doubt kolams are ways to help us think better; they might, but if that were the point of kolams, why is the art restricted to women (in India)? Are kolam practitioners noted for their analytical skills? Besides, while geometrical reasoning is one kind of cognitive skill, surely there are many other types. Howard Gardener’s ideas on the many kinds of minds would seem to be closer to the truth.

  • Nagata shojiro

    I am glad to contact with you as a researcher interested in Kolam or other traditional string cycle patterns.
    I am glad to announce that
    It has Just passed one year since the time when we had held the international symposium on katachi/form in folk/traditional arts(ISKFA06 Japan)
    After a long time, we now published the commemorative issue of the journal
    (English version) FORMA and now uploaded all texts of it to the free web
    http://www.scipress.org/journals/forma/frame/22.html
    of one of the co-organizations Society for Science on Form, Japan
    http://wwwsoc.nii.ac.jp/form/index.html (sorry mostly in Japanese)
    The figure of the cover page is Kolam image calld as Diamond
    Carpet and the four color traces show that the original pattern looks like
    in Chaos, however consists clearly of the structure of Swastika with
    rotating symmetry, and the web image display the animation of that tracing.
    I am considering to send you to a copy(s for co-authors) of a printed matter of the Journal with surface/air mail.
    Please give me your any comments or opinion about it.
    http://jp.youtube.com/watch?v=l8Atlvc9UVA
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGwt306KUB8
    produced by me, show some movies introducing how to draw Kolam in India with real performances
    Thanks again
    with best regards
    Nagata shojiro (KASF) the editor in chief of this issue

  • Dear Sita you mentioned about school for learning disabled and Kolam works.
    I was interested in it very much, as I have tried to Knot/Kolam patterns for making any handicap persons enjoy it and for training our brain as well.
    please find my paper in the list of poster papers in
    http://www.icevi.org/publications/access_to_curricular.html
    one teacher of a junior high school of my friends is applying kolam/Psykolo block developed by men for her learning disabled class
    do you know some books for drawing education
    http://www.hawthornpress.com/books/cfd-123.html
    or Rudolf Steiner education, which seems be originated in celtic knot deign in old Europe?
    if you would like to discuss with me on it,
    please contact with me on
    invsn@cityfujisawa.ne.jp
    best regards
    Nagata

  • > I think he ( Dr. Siromoney) was incorrect on this point.
    > Layard is not only able to give an origins story, but it also explains the puzzling, alternative meanings of the word “kolam”.
    Very interesting for me,
    As I am writing an article of cycle-loop patterns in the Encyclopedia for Form, Function and Design in Japanese.
    In the chapter of Culture and Living,
    I would like to introduce Kolam of your countries including Celtic
    Knots, Sona, Nitus, Arabesque etc.
    So may I ask you to help/inform the following questions;
    When (in how many years ago ) do Such cycle patterns originate ?
    What purpose these patterns were drawn/painted for on the ground ?
    Especially what did/were Dots mean/represented as well as Cycles/loops ?
    I know Rangoli has very wide variations of each state and also Kolam has effected by them now. But I would like to let me know about designs which consist of dot arrangemnts and loops around dots or connected with dots.
    1:I am not able to read Layard’s paper, so please introduce his claims about them.
    2:I know and saw some Hindu priests (men) were drawing Kolam at the threshold of a small temple in a street in front of Meenakshi in Madurai, and also saw some Kolam on the floors in Meenakshi and other hindu temples.
    so, We are able to expect other Hindu literatures, where Kolam were explained as very important religious matters even the painters were only women for thier houses.
    Personally I think this traditional performance has started more eariler than 500 years ago.
    thanks very much for your helps in advance
    Nagata Shojiro

  • Anonymous

    Nagata:
    If I remember Layard’s paper correctly, his theory is that originally, the diagrams were representations of labyrinths, with the labyrinth itself symbolizing the stage between life and death. It’s a bit like how the cross represents Jesus’s sacrifice; the sacrifice itself represents/seals/symbolizes a contract with a divine authority. Later on, the symbolism and representation evolved differently in cultures as people migrated over the globe. In the Tamils, the transition from life to death got abstracted into the notion of threshold. On the other hand, in Vanuatu, much of the original significance of these diagrams seems to have been retained.
    The oldest labyrinth diagram (~2500 B.C.) is possibly the Tomba del Labirinto at Luzzanas on the island of Sardinia. See http://www.labyrinthos.net/luzzanas35.htm for details. It dates the origin to the Neolithic period.
    The original diagrams did not have dots; the dots basically are meant to help in the construction of the digram.
    Kolam-drawing is generally considered a feminine task in Tamil Nadu (which is one reason why it was of little interest to the male writers). Priests are an interesting exception.
    I suggest you ignore folk explanations of why kolams are drawn. I don’t think kolams have anything to do with expressing gratitude towards Mother Earth or warding off evil or any such thing. The truth is Indians have forgotten. They do it now mostly because their ancestors did it. But the original impulse for these diagrams are now to be found only in a few isolated places like Vanuatu.

  • Thanks the responder(maybe Anil) very much.
    1: Sorry I could not visit Vanuatu and also find any Sand paintings of Cycle patterns in the web world except some designs of tattoo.
    So, I think at the present time Kolam is mostly conserved/kept in daily lifes in the world. Could We find any photo/picture (like the BOY in this page)shown in the website ?
    2: Yes, peoples sometimes have forgot why they began to do so in thier traditional performance but only keep in form or for modern pouporse (decoration with Kolam paiting)
    3: Some Webpage (sorry I did not find the URL now again) explain “Dots are siva and strokes are sakthi” or “The dots signify hurdles and problems in life. Our life begins from the Lord, runs around various hurdles and finally ends again with the Lord”. What your opinion about them? In Sona, the dot mean some places, like a rock or an animal etc.
    4: There is simular structurs in form with celtic knot deign in old (pre-Roman) Europe rather than labyrinths. What do you (or did Layard) think about it?
    5:Again When (in how many years ago ) were Such cycle patterns started especially with Dots for Cycles/loops?

  • Nagata:
    Item #1: See the Maria Ascher article (ref #1) for the photograph. She also has a book, I think, on ethno-mathematics that has other pictures. Why not contact people in Vanuatu? They may be able to help.
    Item # 3: I wouldn’t take such stories seriously. There’s nothing in the literature to support these “explanations.” When it comes to Hinduism and its practices, the web is a very unreliable resource.
    Item# 4: Based on the similarity of the designs and the relative ages of civilizations, Layard believed that the European designs were carried over via migration from the old Mediterranean civilizations. It’s hard to be 100% sure since drawings are difficult to date; what one carbon-dates are the stones on which they’re drawn. And of course the Celts may have come up the idea by themselves too.
    Item #5: It’s not known. Such diagrams have been found on grave-stones in Goa, dated as far back as 2500 B.C. The actual origins probably go back much earlier. Only a few places in India have been explored by archaeologists.

  • Thanks Anil-san
    item#1 Yes, I read her paper sent by herself, and know “In the navigation tradition of People of the Marshall Islands” Maybe this island means Vanuatu. I contacted some people related with Vanuatu State incuding the Ambasy, but no information of Sand Painting Nitus. Would you know any person, who would be able to inform at the present time on it? I would like to know Sona or Nitus are drawing by people in daily lifes like Kolam or If we could see them, when we visit there.
    #3: Ascher introduced “the Tamilu literature only refers to the Kolam in passing and includes little detail. and for example one of the earlist know references, a 16th Cntry writing, telles about a peaceful and flourishing Kingdom and Kolam ,,,,,, ”
    #4 Yes, I think most Old celtic knot like pattern was a line of two twisted lopes, which is seen in the mosaic pictures in some ruins/remains realted with Israel or other places
    #5 I greatly appreciate some information introducing that refereable article and also photo
    thanks again

  • Nagata:
    #3 (references to Kolams in Tamil lit): Yes, there are few references before the 15th century. Several possible reasons: (1) most writing was on palm-leaf manuscripts — quite perishable; (2) kolams were considered a feminine art and not of much interest to male writers; and (3) daughters learnt by watching and imitating their mothers, not from books. Also, since most people in Ancient and Medieval India did not read and write, it makes more sense to see if there are references to kolams in old songs. That I do not know.
    #5 (Labyrinth occurrences in Goa): This link might be useful: http://www.labyrinthos.net/indialabs.htm
    Sorry I can’t help you with Vanuatu. But let me know, and I’ll send you copies of Layard’s papers.

  • thanks Anil-san
    My postal address is
    Nagata Shojiro
    InterVision Institute
    4-24,Katase-5, Fujisawa
    Japan 251-0032
    # 5 Interesting story that Labyrinth changed to Kolam pattern
    I would like to know that evolution.
    http://net.community.city.fujisawa.kanagawa.jp/conference/conferroom.php?CONFERNO=318
    writen in Japanese but you may find some pictures with clicking
    some postings with an left icon.
    thanks Nagata

  • William

    I have used Lusona, Rangavalli and Drami patterns with Mathematics Teachers from around the world to exemplify the way that mathematics has always been a part of all cultures, but that this form of mathematics has been ignored as part of the formal school geometry syllabus. On my web page (www.cyffredin.co.uk ) are some simple mathematical investigations that my students and I have developed out of the traditionsl geometrical patterns, such as Drami and Rangavalli.
    I have been fascinated to read all the comments on your web page and hope some readers might like to try experimenting with our activities as a part of school mathematics lessons
    William

  • William: Thanks. The Drami figures were new to me.
    Incidentally, Laura Maffei and Franco Favillia in the Dept. of Mathematics at the University of Pisa have used Sona diagrams of the Tchockwe people to teach high-school students the GCD and other simple arithmetical concepts. Email me (anilm at acm dot org ) if you’d like a copy of their paper.

  • Nagata Shojiro

    Dear Anil menon san
    >Sorry I can’t help you with Vanuatu.
    > But let me know, and I’ll send you copies of Layard’s papers.
    Thank you for your kindness
    I have wait it so long but not has not come to Japan
    Would you check it Please?
    thanks in advance
    nagata

  • VARSHA

    Hello Anil,
    Brilliant work – amomng all the stuff on the internet, yours is the ONLY authentic one that gives a wide angled perspective.
    And I agree with your statement – that the web is an unreliable source when it comes to Hindusim and its practices.
    I am now reseraching Kolam and I need some information from you.
    1.can you send me by email the paper published by Layard please?
    2. would you have come across any references in literature that gives an approximate date for the origins of kolam.
    (the web is full of statements that kolam finds a place in Kamasutre (it does not) Kolam is one of the 64 arts mentioned in Bhagavatham (it is not one of the 64 arts) and so on…I have not been able to locate any authentic date for the origins. if you chance upon anything, please let me know. In the meanwhile if I am successful in my quest in dating this art form I will also inform you.
    Many thanks
    Varsha

  • Hi Varsha,
    Thanks for the kind comments. Personally, I’m a bit appalled by the blog’s, um, verbosity. 🙂 The article just grew and grew.
    I’m really glad you’ve decided to take up the problem of dating the art form. I’ll send Layard’s papers. I’ll also send a paper by Jerome Jacobson on South Asian prehistory which might be useful. If we know people X were drawing kolam-type figures at date Y and they moved into the subcontinent around a later date Z, then we have prehistoric desis drawing kolams at around date Z. If you find anything, please let me know.
    Anil

  • VARSHA

    Thank you Anil for the papers. And Yes, your logic seems like a good one for dating this art form.
    Let me have a read first.
    Thanks again, Varsha