Oct. 1-3. Weaving Sacredness with Tales and Polygons

This week we seek to understand the importance of geopolitical negotiations in the constitution of sacred spaces.  By Thursday we will have looked at two different, yet interrelated cases: one, the dedication, ruination, reconstitution, and recognition of the sacred spaces of the owl dunes in Rajasthan and, on the other, the geometric tales of the Topkapi Scrolls present in the designs of Islamic art and architecture.

Write a reflection based on the readings by Grodzin, Kale, or Bodner on how one of these communities / tribes / ethnicities / religions weave sacredness with tales, polygons, and an embrace.  Please, post your reflection by Sunday at 5PM.

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  1. This week I was most influenced by the reading entitled “An Architect’s Embrace: Renovating the Sacred House Through Rhetoric.” The title itself acts as a pretty intriguing hook. However, after reading the article and pondering its subject matter the title only gives the reader a taste of whats to come. Although the tradition and history surrounding the Kaba is as rich as it is colorful, what I was most drawn to is the beautiful language used to describe it. “In order to disclose the importance of the Kaba as a bridge between the earth and the heavens, Cafer depends upon linguistic interpretations of those ten names.” This statement further elucidates my point. The rhetoric expressed is not only verbal but geometric. The concept of a renovation through rhetoric is unconventional and unique. The divine nature of the structure is expressed through the rhetoric. As stated in the reading, the sacred house is the “love and the beloved simultaneously, it indicates the dual nature of its being. Because the Kaba serves as one of the most, if not the most, sacred building in Islam it sets a significant precedent. The geometric nature of the design and the representation of its many names through rhetoric make it a magnificent architectural feat.
    The conclusion of the reading brilliantly illustrates the Kaba’s influence and importance within the Muslim tradition. It is prudent to consider the history of the building to fully evaluate and appreciate it. As the reading states, “the shared notion of love in the Ottoman society enabled the architect to create poetic images, which could allow the viewers to recognize what was indiscernible in the world of appearances and bodies.” The struggle to determine how to preserve and renovate the Kaba goes a lot deeper because of its intense cultural history and its value to the people of Islam. This building is not just an architectural pillar but a loving home.

  2. One topic that arose in conversation during class last week was the difference between space and place. This question was one of the first questions I had asked myself helping to kick-start my interest in this class. I think when most people think of spaces, they think of the empty areas that fill any given place. Space in this sense, therefore, is just as physical as place. This is especially applicable when we think about space and place within the context of religion. In Christianity, the place in which people gather is the church and the sacred space is the area contained within the walls that physically build the place – the area in which the congregation gathers, prays, and makes offerings. When asked what the difference is between space and place in class, however, I began to think of ways to separate the two terms which are so otherwise naturally connected. I decided that place, to me, is a location – a geographical site at which events take place depending on the purpose for which the place was built or constructed. Every place is a noun, proper or improper. For example, a park is a place at which children play and the Woodruff Library is a place in which students study. Space, on the other hand, is often less intentional than place. Space is a much more abstract concept which can be formed without the same intention of any specific purpose or use that is needed when building a place. In other words, a space does not need to be built or constructed for a specific purpose the way a place usually is. In fact, I believe that space can be created anywhere at any given time. For example, when a people gather together whether it be for a political rally, a sport team huddle, or prayer, etc. most people would agree that the space which they create has an element of sacredness. These sacred spaces, however, are created by the fact that people are gathering with a common interest or for a common purpose. Space, therefore can often be found within a place, but it cannot be confined to it. Sacred spaces are created by people both intentionally and unintentionally. Space can be within the place in which a group of people gathers, like the church for example, but it can also be created in any place or time depending on the experience and the intention of a group of people.

  3. Whether through the tales at the Owl Dunes in Rajasthan or polygons in Topkapi Scrolls, they have both illustrated how a place can constitute sacredness.

    Grodzin’s essay argues that the sacredness of a place is built upon the tales that represent spirituality and history of the land, not necessarily the materiality of the existing buildings. Because of deconstruction, the citizens were “chronically mobile and routinely displaced.” Similarly, in Martell’s article from a couple weeks ago, the mistreated women were migrants who also went through the process of displacement. With “chronic” mobility patterns and movements, to what extent are these places embody the same sacred meanings as before? How does the population of a place define the sacredness of a place?

    Kale’s article explores the importance of embracing the transformative nature of our world and acknowledging the significance and “roots” of Kaba in Islam in renovation projects of ancient sacred architecture. Indeed, people in this place interact with the architecture, and the sacred meaning of the place to the people also composes the spirituality of the place. The rhetoric and stories of the Kaba determines how we perceive its sacredness. In comparison, Bodner discusses the process of creating the geometric patterns in the Topkapi scroll. The end product as the pattern is sacred, because the polygons are creating through a process of circling the square and squaring the circle. Then, when the polygons are adapted in architecture, the place becomes sacred. The readings all present different methods of interpretation on how we can make place can become sacred.

  4. Just as an aside, I found it very interesting that we were talking about the Owl Dune ruins, the cave, and Hanuman temple when we did because in the reading it mentions how a Goddess is worshipped for 9 nights and this is referring to the Hindu Holiday of Navratri which is coincidentally happening right now. How fitting that we talk about sacredness in such a way during a time that many people in the world find sacred.

    As we discussed and read, places such as the Owl Dune ruins, the cave, and the Hanuman Temple are centers of power and they hold a significant tie to the region’s history and past but that power can emanate through the region and to the people through their stories and folktales (Grodzins, 33.) A tradition of tales and stories can weave an importance of sacredness into culture and community for generations. In this way, ruins can remain sacred through stories despite the fact that they are abandoned. Grodzins mentions that the tales that continue to hold power and that the people still consider to be real are those that don’t have closure so the tales carry on into their everyday lives. Essentially, communities choose what they deem to be sacred with the tales and narratives. Similarly, polygons can ascribe meaning to a place in the way that they are built and placed. Bodner described in great detail the importance of the Thirteen-point star that appears in The Topkapi Scrolls. Even a number itself can hold great meaning. I found this especially interesting because numbers are given meaning in different cultures for sacredness. In the past we have discussed that seven as well as three are sacred numbers in many religions. This is similar to the way that tales weave sacredness into a community or place because we also ascribe sacred meaning to polygons and numbers in the construction of a place. In both cases, the physical building of a place with the use of polygons and the construction of tales that surround a space interweave a unique sacredness into different areas that people feel to hold sacred meaning.

  5. The story of the Mina people shows how a tribe may intertwine sacredness into tales. A quick synopsis of the story is that the minas left their goddess and their land behind. When they returned, their goddess had disappeared, and the minas suffered a curse that diminished their tribe’s population. I found the story very interesting because it provided insight into a group’s belief. This belief contributes to their markings of places, symbols, or items as sacred.
    The story of the relationship between the Mina and their god had caused the people who lived in Rajasthan after the minas to denote sacredness to the shrine of the goddess although she does not exist there anymore. In the reading, “OWL DUNE TALE” author Grodzins states, “The shrine is treated during the festival of goddess’s nine nights as if she were still there.” I believe that the reason they still treat her during the festivals is that in the tales, she holds a great influence over the life of the mina people. Despite her not being in the palace anymore, the stories have framed her to be a very important character in the past and as a result, they consider her sacred enough for her shrine to be attended. The importance given to a character in tales in the Rajasthan community contributes to making that character sacred. That is how some communities may weave sacredness to characters.

  6. For Thursday, I dove into the Kale reading, which described how the renovations of the Kaba were made. While reading, I was struck by how the sacredness of this building influenced every decision made. The Kaba, as described by Kale, is viewed in Islam as both “lover” and “beloved”, which ultimately helps portray how love between the divine and the mundane interacts. This cube is incredibly significant and in the discussions over its need to be renovated, its sacredness played an instrumental role for both arguments. Furthermore, the arguments both for and against renovations centered on how the poetics of language and history should inform the decision to renovate. On one hand, since the building was seen as an embodiment of divine love, it could not fall and decay in an earthly manner so renovations were not needed. However, others saw that because the building is so beloved, renovations were only fitting in order to keep it standing. Even more, both of these arguments utilized the interactions between the Arabic letters, which spell out “lover” in order to booster their arguments. Finally, after much debate, when the decision to renovate was made, the golden gutter and brace added were seen as a way to point viewers towards its sacredness. The renovations literally wrapped the building in a beautiful embrace, helping to stabilize and adorn. The cube was given further strength by a square outline and every bit added was informed by tales of the past. In this way, the Kaba represents how sacredness can be sculpted and highlighted by tales, polygons and an embrace.

  7. This week’s readings dealt with extra-physical effects layered on physical spaces and how they contribute to how a space is thought of and processed as sacred. For the second reading of this week, I read the Kale text “An Architect’s Embrace: Renovating the Sacred House Through Rhetoric”. In it he (?) discusses how Islamic architects and scholar approached the dilemma of renovating the most sacred space in their religion. They take several approaches to the issue including, textual close-reading, theological arguments, and symbolic comparisons. The depth to which they delve into the multiple meanings of the space and how they translate into tangible difference and consequence, reminded me of some of the Jewish texts I have studied previously. One of the books in the holy Jewish cannon is the Gemara, a book of Jewish law in which Rabbis from across space and time hold dialogue over a wide variety of topics, ranging from food, to marriage, to the building of spaces. The similarities in their approaches is not so surprising, much of the philosophising and theorizing took place during similar time frames, but it is a little remarkable how both go about dissecting issues through similar avenues. In the Gemara the Rabbis approach the conversation over several spaces, some they argue over the mere dimensions, going back and forth over whether a space should be a minimum of six or seven hand-breadths (a standard unit of measurement used in the Gemara), while at other times they enter deep conversations over the textual basis and literal spelling of words and how they influence the conception and dimensions of a space.
    The similarities between the Islamic and Jewish texts are not so surprising to me when considering the bigger picture. They evolved next to each other, and in some cases, in harmony. The Abrahamic religions share many traits, deep textual analysis among them. I wonder to what degree these discussions extend to other religions. This past summer I visited Japan, and on my trip I visited a large number of temples and holy spaces, many of them reflected similar design and structure, however many of them showed striking and gorgeous difference. I did not have the chance to learn much about the thought-process that went into the construction of these temples but I wonder if they went through similar dialogues. What are the processes that other religions go through when approaching sacred space?

  8. This week, I read Kale’s description of the controversy surrounding the Kaba. Prior to the reading, my knowledge of the Kaba was limited–I knew that it was important in the Islamic world and that many journey to it every year on the Hajj, however, I hadn’t connected this knowledge to that of the geometric traditions of Islam. Indeed, the reading this week from Kale highlighted the cubic shape of the Kaba and detailed the arguments surrounding its restoration during the Ottoman Empire.
    When reading this depiction of the dilemma, I was struck by the dichotomy of this place as a sacred space: the Ottomans questioned whether they should restore Allah’s work, or if the sacred building should be left to evolve (and perhaps to end up as Allah meant for it). The Ottomans were very divided on this issue, and it made me wonder about other similar buildings in other religions. Are sacred spaces meant to be maintained by humankind, or left to eventually turn into ruins?
    This question leads to the first reading of the week, the Owl Dune Tales. As the ruins of an old settlement, the Owl Dunes and the oral history surrounding it very much lent themselves to the central question of Kale’s work. The Owl Dunes are perhaps an example of a place left to evolve and to ruin as the gods meant them, as depicted by the stories of the cave Baba and of the statues of the god and goddess separated.

  9. This week’s Tuesday reading of “Owl Dune Tales” by Ann Grodzins Gold showed the idea that communities interweave sacredness with stories and their everyday lives. The owl dune tales discuss local mythology surrounding a desert area, Rajasthan, in North Western India. The idea of movement was emphasized in this essay, that we (as a society) are “chronically mobile”. Our roots don’t really exist, the reason that we find ourselves “rooted” is due to movement that brought us to that location, either via conquering or displacement. People move because of disagreements with political power. A story told in Grodzins’ essay exemplifies this. A king’s people leave his city in protest, and he must negotiate with them to come back. Without his people, he is a king of nothing. Without his people, there is an empty shell of power. This same idea applies to the Owl Dune ruins. There is an implied sacredness, with no people left to embrace it. Sacredness requires people, not just four walls. It is about those who worship, not the person they are worshipping. People may move across towns, cities, countries and oceans, but their faith follows. Their sacred spaces travel with them, because they are the ones who create them.

  10. This week’s readings started to look into the sacredness of a place and how other factors can alter (or not alter) it. The reading by Grodzins, for instance, is a good example of how outside factors (such as politics) can determine the location of a sacred place. In the readings, Grodzins talked about a tale considering the Minas and the land of Ghatiyali. The Minas had a dispute with the ruling king of the land and decided to relocate. They took the shrine of Mataji, a goddess, with them, which was their way of bringing the goddess along. However, when the Minas had settled the dispute with king and decided to return the Goddess refused to come back and in fact cursed them for breaking their promise to never return to Ghatiyali after they left. The political situation reflects how politics and governmental structures can sometimes determine where a sacred place is located. However, what I find interesting is that even though politics influenced that location of the shrine, it does not have the ultimate authority over it. This was made clear through the shrine staying in the location it was moved to in spite of the Minas’ return to Ghatiyali. Thus, in regard to this situation, it seems divine ideas still had more power over the location of a sacred place than political forces.
    The reading of Kale is a good example of other factors determining what happens to a sacred place. More specifically, it is an example of how rhetoric and metaphors can affect the physical state of a sacred place. In the reading, the Kaba, a sacred house for the Ottoman people, needed repairs, but there was opposition for doing them, which was supported through rhetorical and metaphorical reasoning. For example, the structure of the house had become crooked over the years and needed braces. Since the house represented this theme of love, those opposed to fixing its crooked nature argued that the house’s slanted figure represented a lover bending over and to kiss their beloved. The spread-out nature of the walls was supposed to represent the lover spreading their skirt out as well. One argument for renovations of the Kaba was that the letter elif, which was in the Arabic word for lover, symbolized the beloved as a cypress tree and represented the straight body of the lover. Furthermore, another letter, ayn, was next to the elif, considered a support for the letter, and represented mirror and eye, two things that were considered necessary for divine union. Whether for support or refusal of the renovations, rhetorical devices, metaphors, and symbolism were being used to affect the physical condition of a sacred place. In this case, linguistics and poetry played more of a role in determining the state of a sacred place, but it was still related to the actual divinity that place was supposed to represent.
    Overall, I would say both readings represent how the divinity of the place still decides what happens to a sacred location even if external factors can affect it.

  11. This week I was particularly interested in Kale’s discussion of the Kaba in his piece titled “An Architect’s Embrace: Renovating the Sacred House Through Rhetoric.” In this piece I was drawn to the concept of building communities through sacred spaces, especially through the use of polygons. Kale says, “Architecture was more than an image of power to fix in time and its capacity to orient people in their cultural world was inexplicably connected to ethical concerns and the desire to preserve the order and the balance” (6). When the discussion came up about whether to renovate the Kaba, a sacred cube in Istanbul, the proposition was alarming for many. People felt as though the history and the sacredness of the structure was being disregarded. This is exemplified when Kale says, “Particularly in historical cities like Istanbul, where various civilizations exist in layers side by side, a profound historical consciousness of past endeavors other than nostalgia or denial is alarmingly in need” (6). The rhetoric surrounding this renovation, for people who cherished this site, felt as though proponents of the renovation had a lack of historical awareness. For muslims, making the pilgrimage to the Kaba to communally walk around this polygon is one of the most sacred acts possible in their religion. To alter this structure, is to alter the experience for many. In the end they decided not to alter the main structure as to preserve the sacredness and historical dignity of the religious site.

    I appreciated the way this article demonstrated how rhetoric surrounding a polygonal structure is crucial when that structure has religious and historical significance. For those not of the Muslim faith, making renovations to the Kaba may not seem like an issue at all. However, the way we speak about religious sites and the way we choose to honor them makes all the difference. If we only recognize this site as a meaningless cube in need of renovation, we are neglecting the significance this site has for many and disregarding religious values. Kale said that we need to stop thinking about historical sites in terms of denial or nostalgia, but rather force ourselves to produce meaningful rhetoric to create appropriate change. Eventually this was achieved for the Kaba, and an agreement was made where the sacredness of the structure would remain intact. For the muslim community, despite the renovations, they felt they could still gather in embrace around the sacred cube and share in the meaningful experience. Reading this piece has made me more conscious of the rhetoric I chose to use to discuss religiously significant sites, that to me may merely seem like plain polygonal structures. I must respect that for many, these religious sites provide balance and order, as noted by Kale. In this way, we must consider how sacredness resides in these structures and how the rhetoric we choose to have is vital to respecting culture.

  12. This week’s reading in Kale’s article, I learned about Kaba and the significant of its construction and meanings. I briefly knew about Kaba, thinking of it as an Islamic mosque, but I was never exposed to its inside meanings and its influence to the Islamic culture. Kaba represents the symbols of divine guidance and endurance of harmony in the lands of the sacred house in a pursuit of cosmic order, and in the sacred house, both lover and beloved existing, thus any tyrannizing behaviors such as hunting were strictly forbidden anywhere around it. I think this functioned as a foreground of the Islamic culture how they treat others and expect to be treated.
    Also, reading about the process of constructing Topkapi scroll, It reveals that Islamic culture portrays their shapes in architectures and scrolls very meticulously and mathematically. I believe this fact is applied when Kabba was built, and this brings a personal question to me. Out of many different types of shapes and polygons, why did cube describe the holiest and scared architecture in the Islamic architecture? Perhaps, as Kale delivered, it represented the stability as it is the most stable polygon and forms harmony? As we explore the interactions among shapes, architectures, and meaning, I am excited to glimpse into the thought process of those figures that built the sacred and holy architectures.

  13. Gul Kale’s, “An Architect’s Embrace: Renovating the Sacred House Through Rhetoric,” explores the debate and various perspectives surrounding the renovation of the Kaba. The Ottoman Society connected the construction (or mythical creation) of the Kaba to a physical marker of the sacredness of their religion. I saw a connection of the Ottoman’s society’s reverence to the Kaba to the Rajasthanian’s reverence for the Owl Dune in Grodzins’, “Owl Dune Tales: Divine Politics and Deserted Places in Rajasthan.” The Ottoman Society deemed the Kaba sacred because of the tale of how God had constructed it himself. Similarly, the Rajasthanian group that Grodzins focused on deemed that the Owl Dunes were sacred because of the tale of the goddess. In addition, they label this place as sacred because of the experiences that they had associated with the space. I understand this group’s experience with the Owl Dunes as a historical tale because their memory of the goddess combined with their actual memories created in this place is what makes this place sacred. Both communities demonstrate how the tale of a place can lead to the common belief that that particular place is sacred.

  14. This week one of the things discussed in class was significance, especially as it relates to art. The art we talked about specifically was the mosaics and geometric patterns often used in the decoration of Islamic architecture. A series of circles and angled straight lines are used to create a small section used for a larger design. While beautiful, the design itself does not immediately suggest something sacred. It certainly appears as a piece of art, but it does not seem to have any religious affiliation or sacred use. What brings pieces like these their sacred value is the process by which they are created. In the Bodner article on the Topkapi Scroll, the author attempts to recreate a sacred design using the processes used by those who created it originally. The author could simply remake it by tracing over the design, but it would not have the same sacred effect as creating the piece using the same method. The piece is created by using a series of circles and precisely angled lines that develop into a pattern. Each line is created in relation to a line that is previously drawn, and the first lines serve as a roadmap for the later ones. This process is significant as each angle needs to be exact to create the desired pattern. It is also far more difficult than simply tracing a design. For these mosaics, their significance does not come from their appearance, but from the process that was used to create them.

  15. One of the articles we read this week was “The Topkapı Scroll’s Thirteen-Pointed Star Polygon Design” by Bodner. I thought this article was interesting because I learned that Islamic architects took on a mathematical approach in their building designs. This made sense as it correlates with my knowledge of the Islamic Empire and how they were the peak of civilization at a Golden Age of mathematical and technological advancements, such as Algebra, during the same time Europe was going through the dark ages. However, I was surprised that these mesmerizing patterns were created with such simple structures and directions that anyone could follow, but can seem so complicated when viewed holistically. The Topkapi Scroll contains many of the fundamental geometrical patterns in Islamic architecture, including CN30, which is the one talked about in the article. Bodner specializes in math and attempts to use mathematical concepts to dissect all the methods used to create the thirteen-pointed star pattern. Bodner breaks down nearly forty individual steps in attempting to recreate the pattern using simple mathematical procedures. In fact, most of the Islamic geometric designs we have studied thus far could be reproduced through simple mathematical procedures. This led me to think about how Islamic decorative art differed from other religions. I was reminded of another prominent religious site with similarly breathtaking designs incorporated on the ceiling, the Sistine Chapel. This extraordinary masterpiece created by Michelangelo was produced through years of painstaking labor and intense contemplation of every stroke. However, many people would be just as enlightened and inspired when viewing the geometrical patterns of the muqarnas at the Great Mosque of Cordoba. For me, this shows that the process in which a sacred space is created is not dependent on the designs or patterns themselves, but on the differing ways that a person may interpret divinity through these devices.

  16. Within Kale’s “An Architect’s Embrace: Renovating the Sacred House Through Rhetoric,” the question of how to properly renovate sacred spaces is explored through a historical account. This was a question I had never thought of before. If there are constructions that are ancient and sacred, how would one renovate and restore it without damaging the original sacredness? Ottoman scholars debated this question through surprising means. Rather than discussing the physical implications and consequences of each choice, they analyzed poetics and the structure of words associated with the Kaaba, the sacred space they were looking to renovate. There were stipulations regarding the physical consequences, of course, such as keeping the original layout in tact and preserving aesthetic beauty, but the main points brought to the debate were rationalized through poetics. I found this particularly interesting due to the contrast of Western epistemology that we usually use in debate. I feel as though the use of poetics regarding sacred spaces is fitting.

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