Kolam: Computing and Cosmology within Indian Art (by Shivoham) – Part 1


An attempt, a drawing half-done is the world’s life;
Its lines doubt their concealed significance,
Its curves join not their high intended close.
Yet some first image of greatness trembles there,
And when the ambiguous crowded parts have met
The many-toned unity to which they moved,
The Artist’s joy shall laugh at reason’s rules;
The divine intention suddenly shall be seen,
The end vindicate intuition’s sure technique.

(Sri Aurobindo, Savitri)



The Mother once said:

“In the physical world, of all things it is beauty that expresses best the Divine. The physical world is the world of form and the perfection of form is beauty. Beauty interprets, expresses, manifests the Eternal. Its role is to put all manifested nature in contact with the Eternal through the perfection of form, through harmony and a sense of the ideal which uplifts and leads towards something higher.

 Let beauty be your constant ideal.
The beauty of the soul
The beauty of sentiments
The beauty of thoughts
The beauty of the action
The beauty in the work

so that nothing comes out of your hands which is not an expression of pure and harmonious beauty. And the Divine Help shall always be with you.”  (On Education, CWM, Vol. 12, p. 232)

This guest-series is matriwords’ humble offering to this pursuit of the ideal of beauty. Beauty that interprets, expresses, manifests the Eternal. Beauty that is not merely in outer form, but has to be felt, experienced in an inner way. Almost like a quality of the soul. Or of the higher ranges of the vital or emotional being. Beauty in creation. Beauty in action.

“Beauty is Ananda taking form—but the form need not be a physical shape. One speaks of a beautiful thought, a beautiful act, a beautiful soul. What we speak of as beauty is Ananda in manifestation; beyond manifestation beauty loses itself in Ananda or, you may say, beauty and Ananda become indistinguishably one.” (Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Poetry and Art, CWSA, Vol. 27, p. 700, 14 March 1933)

Matriwords is happy to present “Kolam: Computing and Cosmology within Indian Art” by Shivoham (@integralunity on twitter). The original article was first published here at the Indic Civilizational Portal on March 27, 2016. Copyright (2016): administrator of http://IndicPortal.org 

Matriwords sincerely thanks both the author and the administrator of IndicPortal.org for giving us the permission to republish the article on this blog.

Before introducing the article, let me invite the readers to take a few moments and contemplate on the following:

“India saw from the beginning, —and, even in her ages of reason and her age of increasing ignorance, she never lost hold of the insight,—that life cannot be rightly seen in the sole light, cannot be perfectly lived in the sole power of its externalities. She was alive to the greatness of material laws and forces; she had a keen eye for the importance of the physical sciences; she knew how to organise the arts of ordinary life. But she saw that the physical does not get its full sense until it stands in right relation to the supra-physical; she saw that the complexity of the universe could not be explained in the present terms of man or seen by his superficial sight, that there were other powers behind, other powers within man himself of which he is normally unaware, that he is conscious only of a small part of himself, that the invisible always surrounds the visible, the suprasensible the sensible, even as infinity always surrounds the finite.” (Sri Aurobindo, The Renaissance in India and Other Essays on Indian Culture, CWSA, Vol. 20, pp. 6-7)

The physical gets its full sense only when it stands in right relation to the supra-physical; the invisible surrounds the visible, the infinity surrounds the finite – these truths about the inner core, the essence of the spiritual foundations of Indian culture are beautifully expressed through almost all of the artistic traditions of India, from highest to the humblest, from classical to the folk. Including the tradition of Kolam. That’s the sense I have always had every time I have seen women making kolam outside their homes. That’s the sense this article conveys as we go through the author’s carefully researched analysis. That’s why it fits in so perfectly with the spirit of matriwords.

When speaking of Indian cultural and aesthetic traditions, it is important to recognise that Indian spirituality has never been life-negating or life-denying. In fact, the diverse schools of Indian thought have always emphasised on the life-affirming and integral nature of a spiritual quest, one that encourages the full development and transcendence of physical, emotional-vital and mental-intellectual parts of the being.

The development of aesthetic sense and sensibility is an important part of the development of the vital being of an individual. So before we begin the article, let us contemplate on another passage from Sri Aurobindo, about the rich vitality of the Indian culture that has given us a rich artistic heritage.

“[S]pirituality itself does not flourish on earth in the void, even as our mountaintops do not rise like those of an enchantment of dream out of the clouds without a base. When we look at the past of India, what strikes us next is her stupendous vitality, her inexhaustible power of life and joy of life, her almost unimaginably prolific creativeness. For three thousand years at least,—it is indeed much longer,—she has been creating abundantly and incessantly, lavishly, with an inexhaustible manysidedness, republics and kingdoms and empires, philosophies and cosmogonies and sciences and creeds and arts and poems and all kinds of monuments, palaces and temples and public works, communities and societies and religious orders, laws and codes and rituals, physical sciences, psychic sciences, systems of Yoga, systems of politics and administration, arts spiritual, arts worldly, trades, industries, fine crafts,—the list is endless and in each item there is almost a plethora of activity.” (ibid., pp. 6-8)

In order to bring out some of the deeper relevance of the author’s original points in the light of the integral vision of Sri Aurobindo, we have incorporated some relevant passages from the writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother that have to do with art, beauty, aesthetic appreciation, relation between spirituality and art, and related themes. In addition to this introductory note, some quotes are added at a few places in the text of the article, without changing anything in the original text or flow of the arguments.

Kolam: Computing and Cosmology within Indian Art

Author: Shivoham (@integralunity on twitter).

First published at the Indic Civilizational Portal, March 27, 2016.

Copyright (2016): Admin, Indic Portal. Re-published with permission.




Kolams are curved line patterns drawn by the women of Tamil Nadu every morning in front of their houses after sprinkling water and cleaning the ground. Traditionally, this is done using rice flour and is not intended to be a permanent design. Over the day, birds, ants, and tiny insects feed on it, and the wind and footsteps disturb it. The Kolam is disturbed and eventually erased, and the whole cycle is repeated the next day, and the Kolam is reborn.

Kolam patterns are quite fascinating and have caught the attention of researchers worldwide. Ethnographers study the Kolam and compare it to ancient designs from other world cultures, while scientists seek to better understand the computing, linguistic, and mathematical rules embedded within these ‘mysterious’ curved lines. Many admire the aesthetic aspect of this female artistic expression. Some are moved to poetry

But it is the Indian woman, from vegetable vendor to ISRO rocket engineer, who have actually practiced and kept the tradition of Kolam alive across centuries. They are connecting with the sacred and the auspicious while creating a new Kolam in front of their home to start off another busy day.

“Beauty is the way in which the physical expresses the Divine— but the principle and law of Beauty is something inward and spiritual which expresses itself through the form.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 27, p. 699, 23 August 1933)

Here are a couple of beautiful Kolam websites that you must visit. Kolams can be done in a variety of different ways. They can be something really simple that takes only a couple of minutes, or they can turn into serious art projects like the one shown in this video below.



In other regions of India, Kolam, especially with colors (e.g. see above video) is known as Rangoli, Rangavalli, etc.  Each region has its own distinct version of Kolam or Rangoli. An incomplete list [1] is provided below:

  • Muggulu (Muggu): Andhra
  • Alpana: Bengal
  • Puvidal: Kerala
  • Chowkpurna: Madhya Pradesh
  • Rangoli: Maharashtra, Karnataka
  • Mandana: Rajasthan
  • Kolam: Tamil Nadu
  • Sanjhi: Uttar Pradesh

Women artists in each of these Indian states create Kolam themes that are distinctive and reflective of their regional culture. However, one cannot fail to notice the commonality and consonance between the Rangoli patterns spread all across India, exemplifying India’s unity in diversity.  In southern India, Kolams are often drawn daily, while in other places, women may choose to do so during festive occasions.  There are also Kolam variations within any given region. For example, in Tamil Nadu, we have Pulli (dot) Kolam, Padi Kolam, etc.  

Here is a video of a step-by-step construction of a Padi Kolam.



“[T]he Indian mind is not only spiritual and ethical, but intellectual and artistic, and both the rule of the intellect and the rhythm of beauty are hostile to the spirit of chaos.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 20. p. 12)

The Kolam structure naturally lends itself to a rich artistic expression. Indeed, the word ‘Kolam’ itself suggests ‘beauty’. It has certain fascinating mathematical properties, as well as a sacred cosmology associated with its construction. Let’s look at all these ideas after a brief review of its history.


25 thoughts on “Kolam: Computing and Cosmology within Indian Art (by Shivoham) – Part 1

Add yours

  1. What a fascinating topic Beloo! We used to make kolam in the front yard after preparing the ground with water mixed with cowdung to smoothen it out. Designs were mostly freehand as it gave us the freedom to expand the design till it almost touched the rangoli of the house across the road! Sometimes we would draw a line to ‘mark’ our territory 🙂 I still make them outside my flat everyday, but they are really tiny! I don’t like to use sticker kolams somehow.

    Shivoham is right about making new kolams every day, and there would be days when my sister and I wouldn’t have the heart to sweep the elaborate one we had made the previous day, but eventually end up doing it anyway 🙂 The post took me back all those years to my childhood! Loved the patterns too.

    Eagerly waiting for her analysis and your annotations from Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. The one of Sri Aurobindo about India’s “stupendous vitality, her inexhaustible power of life and joy of life, her almost unimaginably prolific creativeness,” is so powerful and a joy to read and imbibe from.

    Now I also know that the words on the header of your other blog is taken from The Mother!

    Sorry, Beloo, I seem to be writing post-length comments.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the art of Rangoli and Kolam but have no talent for it. Many of my friends in the army make them and they are absolutely delightful. I did not know science is interested in this art. Remarkable indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can relate to what you said, Inderpreet. I love seeing women making kolams. I love the fact that my domestic help makes a kolam outside my home everyday. I just wish I could do it. We north Indians have really let a lot of our traditions go. And that’s too bad. When I first moved to Pondicherry, I actually started learning how to make some very basic Kolam patterns (pulli kolam, the ones you make with dots). My teacher, my colleague at the time, started teaching me on paper. I almost got the hang of a few patterns, but found that it wasn’t easy to make those on the floor with the kolam powder. I should have practiced more and learned more. But then found a wonderful domestic help who was happy to do this extra work for me every morning and that’s how my practice stopped. I should go back to revising what I had learned all those years ago. At least on paper!


  3. Hi Beloo and Shivoham, I am so happy you have taken up this topic to spread word about this wonderful ancient art. An intrinsic part of everyday lives in Tamilnadu that gains special significance on special occasions. I have the fondest memories of my vacations in my native village as I would wake up every morning to the sound of water being splashed on the doorsteps by our old faithful at dawn, wherein I would rush over to see her deftly draw intricate and mind-boggling designs with the kolam-powder in front of the main door. Till date I regularly make a kolam outside my house whenever possible and especially on festivals. The Maa-Kolam or the wet rice-flour paste is used for these events as it is longer lasting. A dash of fevicol to it makes it last even longer. I didn’t know about the scientific aspects of this art. Thanks for doing this piece and look forward to reading the next in series.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kala, that little tip about fevicol is good 🙂 I think I might use it on Diwali because almost every Diwali we have heavy showers here (returning monsoon on the southeastern coast), and it is very difficult to keep the kolam intact till the evening deepam time. This should come in handy!

      I am so happy to read all that you shared about your memories and experience with making Kolam. Thank you for sharing and for your appreciation of this article.


  4. Wonderful! I love making these Rangolis, and no festival is complete without back breaking hours of painstakingly done rangoli and even more hours of admiring my own work and clicking pictures of it! it is indeed a science, everything from keeping the dots to connecting them seamlessly is a science. The beauty about making a rangoli is that you tend to get lost in the design forgetting just about everything. It can be that relaxing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Titli for sharing about your love for this beautiful Indian art form. Indeed, it can be relaxing and blissful. I can sense that just by watching others make kolam 🙂 The one-pointedness of mind that is needed to draw these patterns seems to come so spontaneously, so organically, it is almost yogic.

      I am so glad to see that this series is resonating with several people.


      1. Beloo, I am lucky that I live nearby my Amma even after my wedding …. Already I have posts about her Kolams and Craft works in Amma’s Rangoli and Crafts section of my blog ….. Please do have a look at it and give your comments … 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a beautiful tradition. We would make rangolis only on special occasions but I never could do those elaborate ones. Since I’m not too artistic I am in complete awe of people who make it every single day. It’s almost hypnotic to watch someone making it with practiced ease.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean, Tulika. As I wrote to Inderpreet, I also wish I had the talent to make kolam like the way so many women do it, so naturally, so fluidly, with so much grace. It is really wonderful to just watch them do it.

      Thanks for reading and for appreciating this article.


  6. I Was aware about this art of Kolam, but I became so enlightened about this when I read the post. Many spiritual insights from the information here. Loved the presentations in the part 1 and 2. And eagerly waiting for part 3. Thanks a lot Belooji for sharing this with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Very beautiful indeed! The art and the article both!!
    The wonderful quotes are a definite value addition:)
    I used to observe on my morning walks women making kolam in Tamil quarters of Pondicherry..they were deft and humble..!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Amit! I am always amazed and humbled when I see women here making such elaborate kolams with such ease and finesse. Such grace and delicacy in their hand movements as they create impeccable beauty.
      Do return for parts 2 and 3 of this series 🙂


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