When people think of knot work design what typically comes to mind are Celtic motifs from England and Scotland. Like most people I knew nothing of the knot work design coming out of the Buddhist and Hindu cultures of India until I spent a month in the South Indian city of Chennai.
Walking in the early mornings, I'd find intricate knot work patterns drawn out free hand with flour on the streets in front of homes. Initially, my question was, how did these designs, so common in Celtic knot work, end up in India?
The Buddha Chain were known as Rongoli, which is a combination of two words: "Ranga" means God and "Oli" meaning to be pleased. A devout Hindu friend explained to me that the designs were a daily offering, an artful expression of worship not only for the deities, but also for the birds that feast on the flour designs during the day.
The tradition is truly ancient. Hindu epics thousands of years old describe cities where Rangoli were drawn with camphor powder or multicolored stones. One myth tells how a woman's Rangoli picture of flowers was so realistic that it attracted bees.
The designs were also done with red earth and even depicted with milk carefully poured into a water vessel. The ability to draw these designs was considered so important that it brought status, particularly to a daughter-in-law seeking to impress her new mother-in-law. Even today, there can be a bit of playful competition between house holds.
The technique looks simple enough, but really requires a skill since it is done free hand. Sometimes I would come across people in the process of actually making the designs. Rangoli images start from a matrix of dots that are placed in a particular configuration. These are then connected by lines to create images.
I saw knot work motifs that were geometrical, and some that had floral shapes. I found out that it is also common during festivals to depict Hindu iconography, such as the conch, lotus or sacred Sanskrit letters. In Rajastan, which is in the northwest part of India, the Rangoli images are painted on the handles of swords or knives carved into animals Rangoli can also be found on