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  • Writer's pictureVidya Shyamsundar

Light of Gold

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

Layered with vibrant colors, textures, and symbolisms, I paint mandalas that reflect imprints of the centuries-old South Indian meditative ritual art called Kōlam with distinct intricacy, precision, and symmetry and its effect on mindfulness and spirituality.

The Light of Gold is a collection of paintings that focus on symbolism. Light is a spiritual symbol of hope. The radiance of gold transmits warm energy and positive vibrations and signifies healing, growth, and knowledge. The elephant is a spirit animal of fortune, wisdom, and strength. And a mandala embodies beauty, wellness, and hospitality.

Our soul is the essence of who we are. Leading a spiritual life does not mean meditating for two hours every day, chanting prayers, or going on a pilgrimage. Often, we neglect to see the beauty in simple and ordinary things in our everyday lives. Spirituality is about understanding who we are as a person, what is meaningful to us deeply, and how we can get there. It’s a work in progress. Making art is a spiritual practice - an offering that helps me rise to the best, which nourishes my soul to find a meaningful connection with my childhood or future self. I honor my creative space, and I enjoy those sparks of precious moments that align with the energy of my soul.

My hometown, Kerala, is known for its rustic beauty and peaceful temple surroundings. Locals and tourists seek blessings from the temple elephant as it gently presses its pink snout dripped with saliva at the end of its trunk when they bow their heads down. People view an elephant as a sacred animal of fortune and good luck and a living incarnation of Ganesh - a Hindu deity with an elephant head and a human body known to be an obstacle remover. One of my childhood friends introduced me to Ganesh in third grade. I cherish the times we hung out and played around the temple vicinity, telling stories and praying naively to make our wishes come true.

India is a country of rich, bright colors. The vibrancy of colors, textures and the magnificent intricacy in the hand-woven Indian textiles fascinate me. The element gold is both a material and a spiritual symbol valued highly in Indian culture. Although I am not attracted to gold jewelry, its radiance captivates me.

Mandlala drawing by Shekharipuram Bala Subramaniam

A mandala is a visual prayer that embodies beauty, hospitality, and wellness. I grew up watching my mom and women in my neighborhood community making the Kōlam (mandalas made using dry rice flour or wet rice paste) on the threshold before dawn every day. I marveled at the spontaneity of creating intuitive geometric patterns while the flour slipped through their fingertips. Kōlam making is an art of womanliness.

The Kōlam drawing on the entryway symbolizes a visual bridge between the internal (the domestic household) and the external (the unknown, or the world outside) realms of existence as we enter and exit our homes. As we traverse the space, we are cleansing our ill-will and sending them on their way with renewed spirit and positive energy. The rice flour manifests generosity to tiny creatures such as ants, sparrows, and crows - an invitation to nibble the rice flour to feed themselves. The presence of the Kōlam indicates a state of ordinariness, which implies that the household is alive and harmonious. Its absence communicates that there has been illness, suffering, or death overnight. It is a sign for neighbors to bring food, offer help, and comfort the grieving household members. The Kōlam is ephemeral. They are created every day but get destroyed by passing feet, wind, rain, or playful children. It signifies the ebb and flow of happiness and suffering in our lives, the cycle of birth and rebirth, and the concept of totality and continuity.

Painting a mandala gives me a feeling of belonging and identity, a practice that makes me feel closer to my home. It creates an avenue to reminisce about my childhood and pay homage to the lost loved souls. I use a tiny paintbrush to make colorful, intricate symmetrical mandala patterns with lines, loops, and curves in my studio, working organically from the center outwards.

I am focused. I feel a sense of calmness and clarity. I capture glimpses of my childhood while engrossed in making my mandala patterns. I can see reflections of vibrant color, I can smell the sweet fragrance of Jasmine, I can feel the power of chanting mantras, and I can hear the noise of people chattering and children giggling in the background. I can taste the aromatic Indian delicacies: a sign of celebration, unity, and harmony.

A message continues to resonate through symbolism and motifs: Nothing in life is permanent. We learn to move forward in our lives, chase our dreams, and hold on to the power of faith. I pick up my paintbrush and continue to paint; to reunite…

Painting a mandala helps me to slow down and find my momentary peace.

Peace & Namaste!


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