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Mandalas and Indian Poetry

In Spring 2021 I had the privilege of teaching sophomores and world literature.

I almost enjoy 10th graders more than seniors--senioritis is real!--and I've never had the opportunity to teach World Literature.

Due to the hybrid schedule, wherein I have the students a total of 36 in-person days, and the fact that most of these were COVID freshmen who disappeared during virtual, I spent more time on grammar and writing basics than arts integration.

I did, however, flavor my teaching with a few artsy lessons.

Their favorite was one on symmetry in writing (anadiplosis) and art.

Here's a breakdown of the lesson:

1. Indian Poetry and Anadiplosis

Before Covid, I took Bharatanatyam at a local Indian dance school, and we learned the following shloka:

Yatho Hastato Dhrishtihi Yatho Dhrishtisto Manaha Yatho Manatato Bhavaha Yatho Bhavastato Rasaha

In English

Where the Hands go, the Eyes should follow

Where the Eyes go, the Mind should follow

Where the Mind goes, the Emotions are generated

Where the Emotions are generated, Sentiment arises.

In the original and in the translation, the poem provides an example of anadiplosis: the repetition of words/phrases at the end and beginning of a clause.

I prefer to teach pre-colonial literature as much as possible in World Lit, and translations can be problematic, so I taught this as the exemplar (as I said, so little time!!!).

Because this piece is highly structured yet flows organically, I paired it with the following geometric concept found in Indian art.

Radial Symmetry and Mandalas

Radial symmetry is the repetition of patterns around a central point.

Indian art, philosophy, religion, yoga, etc. focus on the idea of a central Source with infinite variety and pattern spreading from it, and mandalas serve a variety of purposes within those ideas.

I had the students read a few pieces about the meaning of mandalas in Indian culture, practice using a compass to make circles, and then they spent a class period listening to beautiful music and creating mandalas.

They came away from the class period completely relaxed (per their testimonies!) and with some wonderful creations.

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