"They trace wonderful patterns in white powder upon the red soil, which has previously been well swept and beaten. Their designs are but fleeting, and are carried away by the lightest wind or by the feet of men, goats, dogs, and crows. They do their work very quickly, guiding themselves in the tracing of these designs by marks which have been placed there beforehand, and are visible to them alone. Bending forward in a graceful attitude, they move the little box which contains a powder that escapes in a white trail like an endless ribbon over the surface of the ground. Complicated arabesques and geometrical figures grow marvellously under their hands. Often, too, they place a hibiscus flower, an Indian pink, and a yellow marigold at the chief junction of their network of lines after the design is completed. The little street, decorated from one end to the other in this manner, seems to be momentarily covered by a fairy carpet."
The daily (and temporary) art of making a rangoli/alpana/kolam is no longer as commonplace as it once was in many parts of India. These pictures are from the 1950s and offer examples of printed contrast and puff sleeve blouses of the time (Loti’s book also makes a mention of the ways in which Indian women combine patterns and colour).
A few links on the math behind the design and cross cultural similarities.
(Found via Horses Atelier)