Desktop Archaeology: “Ancient Sudoku” or Magical Squares Uncovered in Tamil Nadu, India Possibly Dates to 17th Century

Sudoku is a game that is known and loved by many who like a simple yet challenging puzzle. Because of its name, the magic square is usually believed to be the invention of the Japanese. However, that is not the case as the Chinese have their own which they call the Lo Shu Square or the Nine Halls Diagram. But recently, another culture is added to the list of those that have created magic squares and that is the Hindus of India.

Last 28 March 2018, The News Minute reported that a Sudoku-like inscription was found by a team of archaeologists. The find was located in Palani, Tamil Nadu and was engraved on a pillar of a mandapa dating back to the 13th century. The Indian magic square was uncovered during the repairs on the pavilion typically used during the Panguni Uthiram festival in April. It has escaped the notice of the people who’ve been there as it was hidden by several layers of limestone coating. This was due to the repeated renovations that were performed on the pillars and it was also because of the refurbishments that it was discovered.

Murugan, the Hindu god of war to whom the discovered magic square pays homage to.
Murugan, the Hindu god of war to whom the discovered magic square pays homage to, Benson Kua at Flickr.

V. Narayanamoorthy, who was a part of the group who worked on the pillar, told the aforementioned publication that the 3×3 square contained Tamil numbers. The archaeologist further explained that the style of the numbers likely puts the inscription to the 17th century, four hundred years after the temple was built. Moreover, the numbers total to 15 whichever way they are added. This number indicates that the temple, or at least the inscription, is in honor of Murugan, the Hindu god of war.

An example of a mandapam at the Airavatesvara Temple in Tamil Nadu, Wikimedia.
An example of a mandapam at the Airavatesvara Temple in Tamil Nadu, Wikimedia.

Magic squares are a product of mathematics and are used for recreation. The earliest example (Lo Shu Square) comes from China and is attached to a legend from as early as 650 BC concerning Yu the Great. Meanwhile, Arabia and its neighbors Persia and North Africa have been suggested to start playing with magic squares before Islam came to their lands.

While magic squares are solved during recreation periods these days, they used to have magical significance. In fact, examples from the Middle East were considered as childbearing charms. This shows that what we now know as Sudoku and use for entertainment had a deep meaning to peoples of the past.



Holloway, A. (2018, Apr. 1). South Indian Sudoku: Archaeologists find magic square puzzle inscribed on temple pillar. Retrieved from

Shekar, A. (2018, Mar. 28). Did South Indians play Sudoku 300 years back? Archaeologists find rare inscriptions in TN. Retrieved from

Claus, P.J., Diamond, S., & Mills, M.A. (2003). South Asian folklore: An encyclopedia. New York, NY: Routledge.

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