Iris C F Gomes
It was right from childhood that Vaishali Lall, a visualiser cum graphic designer at International Centre Goa, Miramar, had an affinity towards doodling mandalas. At the time, she had no idea what they were called or what they might stand for. ‘The process was soothing and beautiful,’ she says.
Mandala is the Sanskrit word for ‘disc’, ‘circle’, or ‘completion’, where a design is created within a circle. It goes back to ancient times when yantras were depicted on mandalas. Yantras are mantras or chants invoking the name of a particular deity. To create a yantra mandala, one had to study mythological texts for a number of years and detach oneself from the allurements of the world to work in perfect silence.
The mandala has been found to be an essential part of major religions. Western history shows us churches with representations on stained glass windows; there is the Celtic cross with the circle in the centre; and there would be a maze like structure, where the centre contains an energy force. Examples include Alkborough Church, N. Lincolnshire (Eastern England) and Hereford Cathedral, Herefordshire (Western England). There also exist Tibetan, Buddhist and Jain mandalas.
During the Neolithic Period, when the concept of god/goddess was emerging to enable man to comprehend the vagaries of nature, man saw god in the form of a triangle enclosed by a circle. Within this circle was contained that energy similar to that obtained from the circular sun and moon. ‘That is why, when you create a mandala you infuse it with your positive energy,’ says Vaishali.
Vaishali is a Fine Arts graduate from the Goa College of Art and has teaching experience of nearly ten years. She extended her teaching to workshops for people of all age groups. These workshops were mainly to do with oil paint on canvas, using acrylics, painting on glass, tiles and pots, etc. For the last five years, she has been at International Centre Goa and has continued with workshops on weekends and regular classes for people of different ages – from working women to children.
Initially when she attempted to introduce mandalas in her teaching people were not too receptive. They labelled them as rangoli patterns, which Vaishali deems much the same as a mandala for the consistency in the circular patterns used and the fact that they are made to welcome god into the home of a person. Therefore, the rangoli pattern itself serves as a vessel of positive energy.
It was at a friend’s house that Vaishali chanced upon a book on mandalas by David Fontana and her love for mandalas resurfaced. As she read on, she was introduced to Carl Jung and his research on mandalas and their use in therapy. ‘We never studied mandalas at art college. Even though we had to study psychology and Carl Jung, no mention was made about his research on mandalas,’ she says.
Vaishali, who categorises the mandalas into basic, meditation, and art therapy mandalas, goes on to say, ‘Just reading does not give one a complete experience of mandalas. You have to draw it yourself. I felt I had to teach it first to understand it myself.’ Carl Jung drew mandalas too and used them in his practice with his patients. The therapy had enormous benefits with one 55 year-old female patient testifying to the release of pent up emotions through the drawing of mandalas. The first workshop Vaishali had on mandalas did give her better insight and she witnessed the effects first-hand.
Basic mandalas are just geometric shapes that are given to the client to help them understand the concept. A circle is drawn and divided into four and filled with patterns. This mandala can be a healing conduit by itself, drawing the maker into a meditation state.
Meditation mandalas are of different types: they can be used in therapy and to bring out one’s true self. Some are created after chanting the name of god. Other meditation mandalas use focus on nature as inspiration. One concentrates on the positive aspects of nature (flowers, rivers, fountains, etc) and allows that energy to flow into the mandala. Vaishali tells of a girl from Bangalore who attended one of the workshops and was asked to create a lotus mandala. She drew the lotus with water around it and added snakes all around the circle, which she perceives as a source of strength in her life (she sees snakes in her dreams whenever there is some trouble in her life and feels they pass on some energy to help her overcome her trials). The girl also drew designs below the lotus symbolising her family members as the roots and a sun shining behind the lotus, which is the positive force in her life. The girl felt that she was able to resolve many of her problems after the workshop.
Vaishali has attempted mandala art therapy only twice. She has engaged HIV+ children at the Sunburst camp held by Positive People and Human Touch in mandala art therapy. She expresses a desire to work further with the children with this form of therapy because a one day workshop is very limited in what can be achieved. In art therapy mandalas, the concentration is on basic mandalas, the self, and what it is that one wants from life. Again, this is a long process and work needs to continue over a period of one or two years. The different shapes and colours, and their meaning, are introduced to the clients (for example, red represents warmth and love, a lotus stands for purity, and so on). Of course, the clients may have their own interpretations and they are asked about the representations in the mandalas during the process, for example, why they have used particular colours or shapes.
The people who come to Vaishali are usually not in the least artistically inclined, yet in the making of these mandalas some artistic genius is tapped to produce exquisite work. Even if they are assigned the same instructions, the mandala will contain an element of the creator, thus setting it apart from the rest. Vaishali asserts that she has never come across a mandala with negative connotations; the mandalas are always beautiful – vibrant with positivity.
She has decided to make a deeper study of meditation mandalas and the work of Carl Jung and David Fontana. She plans to have a one year course on meditation mandalas at International Centre Goa from the 31st of July, every Sunday from 10 am to 1 pm. This will allow students to work at their own pace without rushing with their painting, and they will be able to discover themselves more comprehensively.
Vaishali, who has even had a Lebanese woman come to meet her all the way from Venezuela to learn about mandalas, advises, ‘The beauty of the mandala is that you can keep adding to it. It doesn’t have to end. Never allow questions to enter your mind, such as what colour you should use and so on. Just allow yourself to flow.’ And the result is a vivid representation of your inner positive energy.