January 20, 2007 3:01 AM   Subscribe

The art of Rangoli:
posted by hadjiboy (25 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
“'Rangoli' is a sanskrit word which means a creative expression of art through the use of color. In ancient India, rangolis were used to decorate the entrances of homes, a floor-painting which provided a warm and colorful welcome to visitors. In Indian cultures, all guests and visitors occupy a very special place, and a rangoli is an expression of this warm hospitality. In particular, the Diwali festival is widely celebrated with rangolis, since at this time, people visit each other's homes to exchange greetings and sweets.”
posted by hadjiboy at 3:02 AM on January 20, 2007

This is most interesting! The patterns are childlike and sophisticated at the same time, which is the best combination you could hope for!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:32 AM on January 20, 2007

a bit less than attractive is the swaztika in the upper right corner at the top, though I know it has nothing to do with the Nazis.
posted by Postroad at 4:34 AM on January 20, 2007

Yeah, Postroad, that swastika predates the Nazi use by a few thousand years. Hitler changed the angle, however, and that slight change made all the difference...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:40 AM on January 20, 2007

The patterns are childlike and sophisticated at the same time

It’s funny you should mention that flapjax, because most of those designs are made by the house-servants who aren’t very literate, but can produce some of the most complex designs in a matter of minutes.

And yes, the Swastika is a peaceful symbol (in some countries).
posted by hadjiboy at 7:25 AM on January 20, 2007

Yahaan har kadam kadam pe dharti badle rang
Yahaan ki boli mein rangoli saat rang...

With every step here, the earth changes color
Here, we speak in all the colors of the rangoli.

Aapke des rangila rocks.
posted by Methylviolet at 9:15 AM on January 20, 2007

Say hey hadjiboy, welcome to MetaFilter and congratulations on your first post. From your blog it looks like you're from Hyderabad and from your username I surmise you're Muslim. So I was curious whether Muslims in India also made rangoli designs in front of their homes or if this were exclusively a Hindu folk art? Or maybe South Indians incorporate both Hindu and Muslim folk art traditions in their domestic lives?

I'm fascinated by rangoli in all its many variations. The first time I saw them being made was in Orissa, wandering through the back roads near Konarak. Their complexity reminds me of Celtic knots and in their being a sort of domestic shared community visual, with Ndebele wall painting.

The ephemeral nature of rangoli and the compassionate, spiritual aspect of offering the rice powder used in making the designs to squirrels and birds, have something in common with the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of making sand mandalas.

The geometry and mathematical aspect of the designs is interesting, particularly the kolam variety.

The rangoli made of flower petals are wonderful, like petal street art created during the festival in Italy, Infiorata, in which entire streets are 'paved' with images made of petals.
posted by nickyskye at 2:09 PM on January 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

I've seen indians of all faiths use rangolis on festive days. its hard not to decorate your house with pretty patterns when everyone else around you is doing it.
posted by infini at 3:39 PM on January 20, 2007

Hadjiboy: Gorgeous stuff, and good post.
Nickyskye - you rock so hard.
posted by arcticwoman at 3:40 PM on January 20, 2007

Thanks for the compliment arcticwoman. By chance I just came across this site about rangoli and kolam, it's an amazing resource on the subject and includes this gem of a site.
posted by nickyskye at 7:52 PM on January 20, 2007

Hadjiboy: Compliments on linking to the Andhra muggu, and not just the (north Indian) rangoli. :-)

For some very obvious reasons, I've always fancied the humble muggu over the more colourful rangoli, not just for the fact that I, ahem, am from Hyderabad myself, but also because I've always thought the muggu was under-appreciated. The muggu, I've always felt, was intrinsically different, in that it is never far away from its wire-frame base; it is simple, without being simplistic, and elaborate without being baroque.

They, nevertheless, do some fascinating things with the rangoli up north; for instance, they put flowers on the base-design, thus it isn't just a visual thing anymore; it is also a very fragrant experience.

Nickyskye: Yes, what I called as the 'muggu' in Telugu is called the 'kolam' in Tamizh. :-)

Have to admit that I haven't really thought about religious differences, if you will, on the rangoli. From my Hyderabadi-Hindu perspective, I would say that while the rangoli isn't a religious requirement for Muslims (it is for Hindu families in interior Andhra, for example, especially about now, when the winter harvest comes home), I've nevertheless seen rangolis being drawn in Muslim weddings, and occassionally, Muslim houses too.

Am wondering if Hadjiboy would agree with me. :-)
posted by the cydonian at 8:08 PM on January 20, 2007

Hello Cydonian (didn’t know you were from Hyderabad, but loved the post you made in the Pol Pot’s Prisoners’ thread, and linked it to another board:)). I have a confession to make: I apparently don’t know enough about Rangoli as I thought I did, from the way you’ve described it, and others have above.
The aspect that I like the most about it is that whenever I go for my morning walk—I see these freshly painted designs in front of everyones houses, and it brings a huge smile to my face.

We just celebrated Sankranti over here (Is it referred to as Sankranti over here, or do they call it Pongal?? I always get confused), and the Rangolis (didn’t know there was a difference between the Muggu and Rangoli—I thought Muggu was the chalk powder that was used to make the Rangoli) are decorated with cow dung, to symbolize the waste of the preceding year, and hopefully will bring in a new year of bountiful harvest.

Nickyskye, I don’t even know where to begin:)
I’ve been a huge fan of yours ever since reading the articles you’d linked to in that Meta thread where everyone was concerned about how you were doing… glad to know you are alright, and in such good spirits!
There was a competition held this year to see if the men can make Rangolis as impressive as the women (it’s the women who make these designs over here), and I must say—they failed miserably.
posted by hadjiboy at 1:44 AM on January 21, 2007

And yes, Muslims have Rangolis in front of their houses too, depending on whether they have a non-muslim servant or not, who would be willing to make the Rangoli for them.
posted by hadjiboy at 1:46 AM on January 21, 2007

Thanks for your lovely well wishing hadjiboy. I feel shy that you read that MeTa thread and somehow thought it was in a corner of cyber Siberia nobody noticed, except the people in that thread. lol, Guess not.

posted by nickyskye at 12:43 PM on January 21, 2007

hadjiboy, Your comment made me look up the celebrations of Sankranti and Pongal. You're right, "In northern India, Pongal is called Makara Sankranti."

I'm pretty gaga about most of Indian culture and pleased you're here with the cydonian, sharing, among the many other things discussed on MF (like that amazing and moving comment on Pol Pot's secret prison thread) some of the vast, complex wonderfulness of India.

I can imagine your morning walks, seeing rangoli and big smiles.

Another aspect of rangoli is pleasing to me. As a women who is seriously mathematically challenged but very interested in science, including math concepts, rangoli/muggu/kolams, have been a way that young girls and women have trained their minds, without the use of numbers, to learn complex arithmetic and logic, as discussed on the lower half of this page, a kind of Folk-Mathematics. I would have liked taking folk-mathematics at school!
posted by nickyskye at 1:09 PM on January 21, 2007

*a woman, arg. Typo challenged too, lol
posted by nickyskye at 1:10 PM on January 21, 2007

Lol, you’re amazing Nickyskye, if I may be so bold as to say that… seriously, the research that you do into topics that interest you is noteworthy.
I have been a victim of depression for the past twelve years sadly, so was unable to enjoy the fruits of all the lovely cultural diversity that’s available over here, but ever since I’ve made up my mind to get better, I’m enjoying every bit of the phantasmagoria that is India—it is truly a fantastical place, with all of its good and bad knotted so closely together, that you can’t help but fall oh so deeply in-love with it—which is not to say that you don’t get disheartened every once in a while, but you get over it soon and become a part of the Human Mêlée again:)

I’m pleased to hear that you like it so much, and hope you and the others like you who’ve shown interest in this country can come and visit it soon. My door is always open, and even if I’m in a not too good mood, I’m sure my mother will be more than willing to take care of you as best she can—she loves company, and would enjoy showing off her culinary skills—of which she has many:b

PS. Speaking of Mathematical geniuses—the Dabba-wallahs of Mumbai have everyone beat on that front!
posted by hadjiboy at 9:10 PM on January 21, 2007

rbl, hadjiboy, rbl?
posted by infini at 12:14 AM on January 22, 2007

Oops, sorry--I forgot there was anyone else paying attention to this.
posted by hadjiboy at 3:52 AM on January 22, 2007

What does rbl mean infini?

hadjiboy, aw shucks. Thanks again for the kind words and the very kind invitation. The web makes researching everything such a pleasure. I wish I had this glorious innovation of the internet when I was a kid.

I lived in India for 10 years, from 1975 to almost 1985, travelling through most of the country.

Like you I also suffer from depression. Can you get anti-depressants in India? I'm glad you're working on finding a way to recover. It takes work and is worth it. It's so good to enjoy the simple things in life, like walking down the street and appreciating the rangoli patterns in the morning. :)

And I'm dying to know about the Bombay dabba-wallahs. Why are they well known for math skills? Now you made me look it up and that is SO fascinating! omg. Man, you got to do a front page post on that!

Dang, now that's folk mathematics at work! wow.
posted by nickyskye at 8:24 PM on January 22, 2007

*1975 to almost 1986, oops.
posted by nickyskye at 8:34 PM on January 22, 2007

Heh, you know, I'm actually a drive-by commenter myself; never really check back to see how a thread progresses after I've posted. Good to see that you folks are reading my rants. AMAZED that my posts seem to be remembered. :-)

On Sankranti versus Pongal: glad you folks asked! :-) It is all very simple, and the answer, believe it or not lies not with north or south India, but the Chaldeans, that ancient Indo-Greek civilization that existed in the region where Afghanistan now exists. Along with drachmas, clepsydras and other interesting elements, the Chaldeans brought the concept of a 12-month-year and a seven-day-week to the Indian hinterlands.

[It was a five-solar-year yuga and something else for weeks, before that; the term you're looking to google, NickySkye, is 'vedanga jyotisa' :-) ]

The result? Indian astronomers started splitting the sky into twelve equally spaced zones, mostly corresponding to the (Greco-Roman) zodiac signs in those zones. In Sanskrit, and just about every Indian language out there, we call these zones as ' raasis' , and they have mostly the same symbols as their European counterparts. Therefore, makara raasi would more or less correspond to the European astrological sign, 'Capricorn', for instance.

There is, however, one critical point to note here. The ancient astronomers ('Surya Siddhanta') interlaced the path of the Sun as it trudged through the heavens, and decided that the actual time when the Sun enters a particular raasi is rather significant for calendrical calculations. That particular time is called "sankraman'am", and the day when it happens, "sankránti". Therefore, there are, in reality, twelve sankrántis in any given year. Makara sankránti is when the Sun enters the makara raasi.

With all that horoscope nonsense, you might actually think that Indic calendars are useful only for determining holidays and such, but in reality, their main purpose is in agriculture, in deciding when to sow and when to reap. Makara Sankranti, you see, is when the Indian farmer brings home his winter crop ("Rabi"), and thus, is about the time when the rural economy gets a huge cashflow. For the next few weeks, everyone feels prosperous and rich, supporting craftsmen (google for 'haridasu' ), do up their homes (muggu), and pursue their hobbies (kites).

Different parts of India call this harvest festival by different names. In Tamizh land, they call it "Pongal", in Telugu, we call it "bhógi" and "Kanumu", in the north, they have other specific names. Because all of these local harvest festivals happen on the same solar day, Makara Sankranti, most commentators now combine all of them together under the heading "Makara Sankranti". This is important to understand here, because culturally, the Andhra sankránti is actually closer to the Tamizh Pongal, even though it is apparently lumped together with the north Indian harvest festivals.

On that note, Hadjiboy, I'm rather amazed that you live in a part of Hyderabad that has place for muggus and cowdung. My childhood in Hyderabad didn't have enough space for cowdung cakes and such; we had to move away from my fifth-storied apartment to my grandparents' village to see Sankranti in its fullest glory. Can't help ask in true Hyderabadi tradition, but which part of Hyderabad do you live in? :-)

Nothing about India is ever simple, and India's calendrical system (gracious self-link alert) is no exception. I'll be happy to answer any questions if anyone's still reading this. :-)
posted by the cydonian at 1:20 AM on January 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh please, the cydonian, when you do share your thoughts in detail I find your comments very memorable, wonderfully written and interesting. I'm pretty astonished by your knowledge of the Indian calendrical system, which has befuddled me for decades. It seemed too huge a topic to get some kind of simple handle on. Thank you for making it comprehensible in such a concise, articulate way!

Six years ago an online friend I lost touch with pointed out a marvelous free Vedic astrology site. Of course, here on MetaFilter, I hesitate to even suggest that I enjoyed such a site but I did and wonder if you know of another worthy one?

I didn't know the Chaldeans lived in that amazing corner of the planet (funny that a globe should have corners).

Please may I compliment you on being a really delightful, fun, unpretentious and loveable brainiac?
posted by nickyskye at 10:38 AM on January 26, 2007

Nickyskye: Gulp! That, without doubt, ranks as one of the nicest things anyone has said to me online. Thank you for your wishes. :-)

A point that I'm itching to clarify: Vedanga Jyotisa is different from Jyotishya, the art of astrology. Astrology, the prediction of the future by looking at the stars was, indeed, one of those Greco-Chaldean imports; the fifth century empire builders, the Guptas, were recorded to have been disdainful towards the new-fangled art of predicting the future. It is one of history's greatest ironies that Indian astronomy is now more or less associated primarily with astrology.

Yes, Indic calendars one of the many things I did research on in univ. :-)

Also, that was gratuitous, and not gracious.
posted by the cydonian at 4:28 PM on January 29, 2007

lol, the cydonian, no need to gulp. Just a little MeFi mash note. I feel that way about a number of MeFites. I'm a polyamorous poster. :)

Ah, so astrology was a Greco-Chaldean import? Thanks for the excellent info, as ever.
posted by nickyskye at 2:06 PM on February 4, 2007

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