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The circle of life: On this Onam, a rumination on the recurrence of circle in nature, myths, and art

One of the essential aspects of Onam—a festival that celebrates harvest and prosperity—is the sight of Pookalam, a concentric circle made of a variety of flowers, at the threshold of homes in Kerala. A circle is a universal symbol, a representation of the cyclical nature of the universe, but also of infinity and timelessness since a circle has no end

Published: Aug 29, 2023 06:16:09 PM IST
Updated: Aug 29, 2023 06:50:12 PM IST

The circle of life: On this Onam, a rumination on the recurrence of circle in nature, myths, and artImage: Madhu Kapparath

A Nair woman from a tharavad (matrilineal household) makes a pookalam arrangement with flowers in Shoranur, Kerala. According to the legend, the demon king, Mahabali, was a benevolent ruler so loved by his people that even the gods became jealous of him. The gods tricked Mahabali and banished him to the underworld, but allowed him to return to his land and people once a year. Hence the celebration, and the pookalam to welcome his homecoming.

The circle of life: On this Onam, a rumination on the recurrence of circle in nature, myths, and art Image: DEA / C.SAPPA / Getty Images

An image of the rose window at The Sainte-Chapelle, a royal chapel in the Gothic style within the medieval Palais de la Cite in Paris, France. Made around the 15th century, the circular window depicting St.John’s vision of the Apocalypse is the ultimate expression of the medieval love of geometry and of the circle.


The circle of life: On this Onam, a rumination on the recurrence of circle in nature, myths, and art Image: Apic/Getty Images

A Yan Dargent painting from the book ‘Album of science:  famous scientist discoveries’ from 1899 shows James Watt and his ‘circle of lunatics’ on an intimate evening at his Heathfield Hall home in Staffordshire, England.  James Watt was an inventor, mechanical engineer and chemist whose improvements in steam engine technology drove the Industrial Revolution.

The circle of life: On this Onam, a rumination on the recurrence of circle in nature, myths, and artImage: Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

An iconic scene from Stanley Kubrick directed movie  Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. In a circular war room, an insane American general orders a bombing attack on the Soviet Union, triggering the path to nuclear holocaust that a war room full of politicians and generals frantically try to stop. Dr. Strangelove explains what he thinks is the best thing to do to repopulate Earth in case of a nuclear war. With one of the best lines ever: “You can’t fight in here! It’s the war room!”

The circle of life: On this Onam, a rumination on the recurrence of circle in nature, myths, and artImage: Werner Forman/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A detail from an Egyptian sarcophagus depicting a scarab in the sundisc within a coiled serpent whose mouth meets its tail. Ouroboros or the tail-eating serpent is one of the oldest tales known to humans, variously signifying cyclic nature of renewal and the cycle of birth and death.


The circle of life: On this Onam, a rumination on the recurrence of circle in nature, myths, and art Image: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

An elderly Tibetan woman uses a prayer wheel at her family's nomadic summer grazing area on the Tibetan Plateau in Yushu County, Qinghai, China, on July 24, 2015. The wheel, spinning in her hand is a physical manifestation of the phrase "turning the wheel of Dharma",representing the continuous cycle of teaching and learning in Buddhist cosmology.

The circle of life: On this Onam, a rumination on the recurrence of circle in nature, myths, and artImage: Jim Dyson/Getty Images
 
An aerial view of a geometric crop circle, measuring approximately 100 metres, in a field of wheat in Hampshire, England, on July 29, 2023. These mysterious crop formations, that appear overnight have evolved into an international phenomenon, with hundreds seen around the world. Although many crop circles have been proven to be caused by intentional human action, and are considered a form of folk-art, there are many who choose to believe they are created by unexplained paranormal or extraterrestrial activity.

The circle of life: On this Onam, a rumination on the recurrence of circle in nature, myths, and artImage: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
 
People of all ages gather as a drum circle on Nokomis, Florida, beach at sunset. At its best, a drum circle offers equality because there is no ‘head or tail’, its main objective is to share the rhythm, raise a vibration and get in tune with themselves and with each other.


The circle of life: On this Onam, a rumination on the recurrence of circle in nature, myths, and artImage: Desmond Morris Collection/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A handmade Mola textile—reverse applique design worn on female blouse—by the indigenous Kuna people from Panama, depicting the tribal circle-dance at a Kuna celebration.


The circle of life: On this Onam, a rumination on the recurrence of circle in nature, myths, and artImage: Courtesy Museum of Art & Photography Bengaluru.

This art shows the Warli indigenous tribe of Maharashtra in a spiral formation inspired by the traditional Tarpa dance in which members of the community gather around a musician playing the Tarpa, a wind instrument made from a gourd. The word that the Warlis use to describe the act of painting ‘Lihane’, is also the word they use for writing.

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