Fibonacci Kolams

S. Naranan


Correspondence with
Martin Gardner

The PDF Version

The Articles
  • Paper I
    Square and Rectangular Designs

  • Paper II
    Square and Rectangular designs of arbitrary size based on Generalized Fibonacci Numbers

  • Paper III
    Rectangular Kolams with two-fold Roatational Symmetry

Power Point Slides

  • THE HINDU: on Prof. Naranan and his Fibonacci Kolams

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Prof. S. Naranan
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Fibonacci Kolams

This website demonstrates with theory and examples the connection between the beauty of Indian kolams with the elegance of the well known Fibonacci Numbers.

Prof S. Naranan, a Physicist, in course of drawing these Kolams as part of his many hobbies, discovered the elegant connection and has come up with some fascinating designs. The articles and actual drawings of the Kolams can be found by clicking the links on the left margin.


Kolams are decorative geometrical patterns that adorn the entrances of households and places of worship especially in South India. Kolam is a line drawing of curves and loops around a regular grid of points. Usually kolams have some symmetry (e.g. four-fold rotational symmetry). There are variants:

(1) Lines without dots
(2) Lines connecting dots and
(3) Free geometric shapes without lines or dots.

The last variety has sometimes, brilliant colors and is known as Rangoli, popular in North India. The traditional South Indian kolam, based on a grid of points is known as PuLLi kolam or NeLi kolam in Tamil Nadu (PuLLi dot, NeLi = curve); Muggulu in Andhra Pradesh, Rangavalli in Karnataka and Pookalam in Kerala.

Special kolams are drawn on festive occasions with themes based on seasons, nature (flowers, trees) religious topics and deities. The month of Margazhi (Dec 15th to Jan 14th) is very special in Tamil Nadu. During this month, everyday, with the crack of dawn, women draw large kolams with bewildering complexities with rice flour in front of their homes. Rows of such colorful kolams on either side of the street, is a sight to behold for the passers by. The folk-art is handed down through generations of women from historic times, dating perhaps thousand years or more. Constrained only by some very broad rules, kolam designs offer scope for intricacy, complexity and creativity of high order, nurtured by the practitioners, mostly housemaids and housewives, both in rural and urban areas.

Here we deal only with PuLLi kolam or kolam for short. The contents are organized in three sections: articles, kolams slides and special kolams.


(Click on 'Paper I', 'Paper II' and 'Paper III' on the Left panel for PDF files):


2.1: Part I: Square and Rectangular Designs.

We describe a general scheme for kolam designs based on numbers of the Fibonacci series (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 .......). Square kolams (32, 52, 82, 132, 212) and rectangular kolams (2 x 3, 3 x 5, 5 x 8, 8 x 13) are presented. The modular approach permits extension to larger kolams and computer-aided design. This enhances the level of creativity of the art.

2.2: Part II: Square and Rectangular designs of arbitrary size based on Generalized Fibonacci Numbers.

The scheme is generalized to arbitrary sizes of square and rectangular kolams using generalized Fibonacci numbers. The problem of enumeration – the number of possible Fibonacci kolams of a given size – is discussed. Enumeration of kolams of small size (32, 52, 2 x 3) is described. For 2 x 3 kolams kolams symmetry operators forming a group are used to classify them. Finally, the scheme is further extended beyond square grids to cover diamond-shaped grids. Possible connections of kolams to Knot theory and Group theory are indicated.

2.3: Part III. Rectangualr Kolams with two-fold Rotational Symmentry

In Parts I and II, a general scheme was given to create square kolams based on 'Fibonacci Recurrence'. Based on the canonical Fibonacci Series 0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 . . . . .

Square kolams 32, 52, 82, 132, 212 were presented in Part I.  Square kolams of any desired size can be generated based on the Generalized Fibonacci Series (Part II).  Rectangular kolams with sides as consecutive Fibonacci numbers – Golden Rectangles - were also drawn but they lack any symmetry property like the square kolams which have four-fold rotational symmetry.  In this paper (Part III), Rectangular kolams with two-fold rotational symmetry based on Fibonacci Recurrence are presented.

Fibonacci Rectangles are based on two Fibonacci Quartets unlike the Fibonacci Squares that are based on one Fibonacci Quartet, and are therefore harder to create.


This Power Point file has 49 slides. The first 16 slides contain interesting facts about Fibonacci Numbers. The remaining deal with the Kolam designs based on Fibonacci Numbers. The kolams are duplicated from the two articles mentioned above. Explanations for the kolam slides can be found in the articles.


The Generalized Fibonacci Numbers permit a wide choice for the rectangles that go into the square designs. With the standard “Fibonacci Numbers” the rectangles are “Golden rectangles” with sides equal to consecutive Fibonacci numbers and their ratio approaching the Golden Ratio ? (=1.61803...). The explanations for the 6 slides are given below; All these kolams have a single loop except the last one.
  1. (7 4 11 15) This code implies that a 152 kolam is made up of a central square 72 surrounded by four rectangles 4 x 11. The code for 72 is (3 2 5 7); or the 72 contains a central 32 surrounded by four rectangles 2 x 5. Each 4 x 11 rectangle is made up of three modules: 42, 4 x 3 and 42.

  2. (13 4 17 21) Since 21 is a Fibonacci Number, the canonical quartet code for 212 is (5 8 13 21). The “Golden rectangles” are 8 x 13, two consecutive Fibonacci Numbers. But here we consider 21 as a “Generalized Fibonacci Number” and the quartet code is (13 4 17 21). The 212 is made up o of a 132 surrounded by four rectangles 4 x 17. The 132 has the code (5 4 9 13) again different from the canonical (3 5 8 13). Each 4 x 17 rectangle is made up of 5 modules 42,42, 4 x 1, 42, 42.

  3. (12 7 19 26). This square kolam, we name it “a e-kolam”, e representing the Euler’s constant (2.7182818. . . .), the base for natural logarithms. The code implies that a 262 kolam has a central 122 enveloped by four rectangular kolams 7 x 19. The ratio of the sides 19/7 = 2.714.., differs from e by 0.004 or < 0.15 % of e. So this kolam has “e-rectangles” instead of the Golden rectangles. The central 122 has the code (8 2 10 12) – i.e. a central 82 surrounded by four rectangles 2 x 10. In turn the 82 has the canonical code (2 3 5 8). The 3 x 5s are Golden rectangles. So, this kolam features both the Golden rectangles and the e-rectangles.

  4. (7 19). This rectangle of sides 7 x 19 with ratio approximately equal to e, the Euler’s constant, was used in the in 262 kolam above. It is made up of three modules, a 7 x 5 rectangle sandwiched between two squares 72. The three modules are spliced together at 6 points, indicated by dots. If splices at the points A and B are added then the single loop kolam splits into three loops.

  5. (15 7 22 29). This square kolam, we name it “ a pi-kolam”. The code (15 7 22 29) implies that 292 kolam contains a smaller 152 kolam at the center surrounded by four rectangles 7 x 22. The ratio of the sides of the rectangle 22/7 is the commonly used approximation for pi, the ratio of the perimeter to diameter of a circle.

    - 22/7 = 3.14285…differs from pi (=3.14159 ...) by 0.0013, which is < 0.04 % of pi. - The code for 152 is (7 4 11 15) and the code for 72 is (3 2 5 7).

    - The code for 152 is (7 4 11 15) and the code for 72 is (3 2 5 7). Each 7 x 22 rectangle is composed of 4 modules 72, 4 x 7, 4 x 7, 72 that are spliced together at 15 places to produce a 3-loop design.

    - This 292 kolam is built with 33 modules and 111 splicing points to produce a single loop traversing 841 ( 292) dots or grid points.

  6. (7 22). This shows the 7 x 22 “pi-rectangle” used in the 292 square kolam above. The 15 splicing points come in three sets of 5 indicated by dots in the direction of arrows. The three loops are shown in different colours. It is possible to convert this into a single-loop kolam by removing the two splices at A and B.


Brief Bio:

Dr. S. Naranan (b. 1930) was an experimental cosmic-ray physicist and X-ray Astronomer based mostly in the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Bombay, India, in a career spanning 42 years. He is a firm believer in the interdisciplinary character of science and has diversified his interests to other fields such as mathematics, statistics, computer science, biology, genetics and linguistics. He lives with his wife Visalakshi in Chennai, India.

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