Forma, Vol. 27 (No. 1), pp. 83-92, 2012

Sequential Encoding of Tamil Kolam Patterns

Timothy M. Waring

200 Winslow Hall, School of Economics, University of Maine, ME 00469, U.S.A.
E-mail address:

(Received July 11, 2011; Accepted August 3, 2012)

Abstract. The kolam is a traditional hand-drawn art form in Tamil Nadu and South India comprised of many subfamilies. Kolam patterns are most commonly drawn with chalk or rice powder by women on the thresholds of homes and temples and are of significant cultural importance in Tamil society. Academic investigations of Kolam patterns have used many different terms for different kolam pattern types. I introduce a global typology of kolam types, and present an extension to the square loop kolam (SLK) patterns studied in the past. Square loop kolam patterns are composed of an initial orthogonal matrix of dots, defining a space around which curving lines are drawn to complete one or many loops. SLK patterns can be decomposed into the gestures made by the artistís hand, and previous studies have created sequential languages to represent SLK patterns. Prior kolam languages used a limited gestural lexicon and could not account for the diversity of SLK patterns produced by artists. The current paper introduces an expanded sequential gestural lexicon for square loop kolams, and describes a system for the digitization of SLK patterns using this expanded and expandable language.

Keywords: Kolam, Tamil Nadu, Sequential Language, Lexicon, Knot Pattern

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