Friday, June 10, 2011

Punjabi Riddle-Poems

Has anyone ever noticed that India is shaped a bit like a question mark....
...especially if Sri Lank is the dot?

More riddles - my latest obsession.

This time, three riddles from Punjabi folklore. Give them a minute or two, don't try to guess  - just let the metaphors rise up in you. Think about the saying, "Everything that rises must converge." Convergences, areas of similarity, consider those. Then, if you need solutions, you'll find them at the end of this post. 

Riddle #1 -

Tied in a blue cloth,
this handful of rice -
lost in the daylight,
found at night. 

Riddle #2 -

See her coming,
see her going,
thinner than water,
sweeter than sugar.

Riddle #3 -

I'm the son
who can climb to the roof
before his mother is born.

As do many countries and cultures, India has a long history of riddle-making. If you want a little more flavor of India, take a look at my blog post from Wednesday, a "virtual cup of tea and interview" with children's author Uma Krishnaswami  about her wonderful middle-grade novel THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING (starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.)
Still from a Bollywood Movie

Uma Krishnaswami's Wonderful New Book

Pilgrims in the Golden Temple in Punjab, India ..where even the floors are riddles.

You'll find today's Poetry Friday round-up over at Anastasia Suen's Picture Book of the Day. Head there to see what other people are posting.

Oh - by the way - the answers to the riddles?
#1 - Stars
#2 - Sleep
#3 - Smoke


  1. brain's a little fuzzy today (i blame heat sleep) i only got one of the riddles before peeking.

    i picked up a book at a yard sale once, GEOMETRIC CONCEPTS IN ISLAMIC ART that's just full of visual explanations for pattens like those floors. they're like abstract m.c. escher drawings (though i realize they were around thousands of years before he was...)

    fun stuff, looking forward to hearing more about riddles.

    (verification word is "laigh." and if that isn't a real word, it should be)

  2. These are beautiful, Julie--I especially like the stars one. Thanks for sharing--riddle poems rock.

  3. Love the riddle poems, Julie, and enjoyed your chatting over tea interview with Uma. Can't wait to read her new book :).

  4. I LOVE this post! The stars riddle is my favorite, too. Going to look at your interview with the author.

  5. LOVE that last riddle, Julie. These are amazing. My kids and I just watched a Dr. Who episode where the setting is based on a puzzle -- an M.C. Escher image.

  6. Okay, so I've got the first one and have skirted the answers so will keep mulling- and I'll share these with my kids in the morning. Little brother is usually pretty quick with these... And heading of now to share your cup of tea with Una I so enjoyed her visit to PaperTigers too.

  7. My daughter is a riddle fan - a dedicated Hobbit reader - she'll enjoy these, thank you.

  8. Very fun. I got the stars one right away, and tried to do what you said about not over-thinking the other two, waiting for convergences. Didn't happen until after I saw the solutions. Then I went, Oh, Yeah! I get it!!

  9. Oh, fun! I think they're called paheli in Punjabi, plural paheliyan.Julie, where did you find these gems? They're wonderful.

  10. I'm glad you've all enjoyed these. Uma, I found them by looking through Google Books with the search terms "India" and "riddles" - and came up with The Encyclopedia of Indian Literature, then browsed through the section on Folklore in Volume 2. since they are mostly spoken, I put them into line, but looked specifically for those which felt like poems.

  11. Coming later as I always do, I got the benefit of reading about your discovery/creation of these riddles--which on first reading didn't occur to me to wonder about. I pictured you finding them in a book called "Punjabi Riddle Poems" or some such.

    Much more fun to picture you tracking down oral tradition and then "composing" them! I"m still working on smoke...

  12. David, when I was in Granada, Ronda and Seville in March, I kept pointing my camera down when everyone around me was pointing their cameras up - I wanted photos of the beautiful floors!! Even worn out (or maybe especially when they were worn) I couldn't take my eyes off those patterns. Maybe I can find some Spanish riddles to post next week and add those snapshots of old tile floors in Andalusia.

  13. It's fascinating to me that geometric designs in floors in Spain, India, Morocco, and so many other places have common artistic origins. And that like temple towers from south India to Cambodia, they carry spatial, mathematical and verbal patterns.