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FEATURE ARTICLE

The Kolam Tradition

A tradition of figure-drawing in southern India expresses mathematical ideas and has attracted the attention of computer science

Marcia Ascher

Figure 1. In Tamil Nadu, mothers teach their daughters . . .Click to Enlarge Image

The women of Tamil Nadu in southeastern India traditionally cover their thresholds every morning with elaborate designs drawn with rice powder. Girls learn the ritual from their mothers and other female relatives, and kolam skills are considered a mark of grace, dexterity, discipline and concentration. Drawing the kolam figures is an important part of the Tamil Nadu culture and landscape. But with their orderly and often highly symmetrical designs, which frequently group into families, kolams are also expressive of mathematical ideas. In the last few decades, kolam figures have attracted the attention of computer scientists interested in describing images with picture languages. Different picture languages have been developed to describe different kolam families.


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