I met Grace Gitadellia when I went to Auroville for my painting exhibition in 2015. She is not a person you could meet and forget. There is a brightness in her whole aura. She speaks with wisdom of an ancient soul and playfulness of a small child. There is a never ending youth and freshness in her being.
Looking at a person like that you would want to know what is the secret behind this woman. And she would tell you how Kolam has been her yoga to keep her growing.
[A Kolam is a geometrical line drawing composed of curved loops, drawn around a grid pattern of dots. In South India, it is widely practised by female Hindu family members in front of their houses. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolam]
I was thrilled with this discovery while I listened to her speak.
“This is Graphic Design!” I was full of surprise on realizing.
This traditional practice has not been recognized as “design” because it is looked upon as wishful drawing, without a proper function or purpose other than having decorating motives.
But as she spoke, I began to see “purpose” in it. It was very much done intentionally and with a clear purpose where the symbols start to reveal the mysteries and become a source and guide to see the patterns in the visible world and in the invisible world of emotions and states of being.
I remembered learning about the Golden Spiral and how it is being used as a guide by so many designers. I remembered Masaru Emoto’s Experiment on Water.
Grace Gitadellia grew up in Pondicherry and Auroville and studied in the Netherlands, her Mother’s native country.
She is a Diploma holder in art therapy and a certified dancer.
She conducts regular classes, seminars and workshops in bringing self-awareness and group-awareness to the individuals, notably through the drawing and dancing of Kolam as a language.
The practitioner has agreed to answer few of our questions:
How did kolam become the subject of your work?
I grew up with the Kolam being an integral part of my life.
My Mother taught me how to draw Kolams (in plural they are called Kolangal) integrally.
It was also the women that worked at my Mother’s Fashion atelier in Pondicherry and later Auroville, who actually taught me the ritual of laying down the ephemeral properties of powder Kolam/Kolangal.
What aspect of the tradition of kolam do you think is still being practiced and what aspect has been lost?
The ritual of laying down the early morning Kolam is still very much alive but its patterns have become more and more mixed with Rangoli patterns that are more free style and less challenging cognitively and mathematically. Also, the stark white line Kolam has been more replaced by the chemical, colorful, flower patterns. The meaning of each Kolam is more forgotten and replaced with what is fashionable and visually appealing… like putting on a nice dress to attract prosperity, wealth and even fame etc.
Kolam competitions are being held to try and keep the interest in the Kolam practice for the younger generation that is quickly losing its faith in the traditional values and repeated patterns of ritualistic gestures.
What are you aiming to achieve through your workshops and what has been the response?
The aim of teaching through Kolam Yoga is to create a whole learning experience of the foundation of Kolam and its practice, “ko” standing for aspiration and “lam” standing for the descent of aspiration in matter.
It is a form of yoga through which one can learn to yoke and harness the aspiring descent of every life and establish the possible connection. It can guide one to find the way back to being connected, being whole, being ONE within this incarnation on Earth.
The response so far has been of curiosity and willingness and also of fear and disbelief.
9 willing members have committed themselves to learning more in depth with me the language of Kolam. And I am saying “with me” because I also am still learning.
I hope more people would take up the reading of Kolam/Kolangal and more people would be able to shed light on its amazing properties with the new found insight. I hope that we would develop the understanding that this contributes to the unraveling of what has been left to us by the very intelligent beings, in coded messages of forms, charms, locks, shapes of sacred geometry etc. With practice, this becomes more and more obvious around us in the world. It pushes us over thresholds and invites us to a transformation…
What we need to overcome though, is the limitation created by the division of race, culture and nationalities.
Kolam actually teaches this too, with its practice not being restricted in the Tamil land alone but bits and pieces being strewn all over the world. It is practiced in very similar ways and manners by indigenous tribes to computer scientists finding Kolam codes to implement in creating new programs. New connections (or the ancient ones being found again and again) that go on developing in the unfolding of life.
The most negative response comes from the fear of losing its identity. This leads one to hold on to what is known and not allow oneself to see its magnitude and full potential and the amazing connection it has to the whole of life.
The irony is that despite of this fear, majority of the Kolam practitioners will settle easily into making ordinary Rangoli-like patterns, with chemical, coloured powders and call that Kolam. Again, the same traditional Kolam as soon as it becomes more complicated and demanding and out of the ordinary they would fail to recognize it as Kolam.
What can we learn from this tradition?
…That every living form is made up of sound and light that threads, weaves and knots us together in a Matrix of endless possibilities.
…That these possibilities are expanding with our consciousness and awakening. Kolam makes that visual, what we already know deep within for being true but just can’t seem to put our finger on it yet. And then Kolam takes you by that finger, the hand, the arm, the heart and mind and leads you to discoveries of self and your connectedness in this world and the Universe.
How do you plan to take it to the next level?
Kolam takes itself to the next level by us becoming more and more aware, awakened and conscious of its narrative. It instructs us and leads us.
All we need to do is unravel it… like untying the knots and following the threads…
What challenges do you face and what do you need?
The challenge is that of being white, a foreigner, who in this practice is perceived as an alien, in the eyes of those who see Kolam as belonging exclusively to their race for centuries. To face the anguish, that I am in a position to see without over-identifying, that I am free of not being obliged to executing the style of only one type or group (Paddi, Kodu, Pulli, Sikku, Nelly, Kambi etc).
With these complexities, Kolam can causes disbelief, envy and at times even hatred. Kolam requires the Tamil practitioners to wake up and grow beyond these, that inhibits the potential of Kolam and impart this without such narrowness attached.
I guess we need the time and perseverance of the Kolam lovers that wish it to once again unravel its magic and take us to our connectedness, our oneness and our true beings.
What keeps you inspired in your journey?
The Kolam does. Whenever a Kolam has unraveled a bit more of itself to me and has allowed me to enter into its unconditional love, I feel connected through it to this amazing Universal body of love.
It is bigger than me and vast and “whole” and filled with love. Who would not want to experience this?
Is there any particular person or instance or phase in your life that helped you particularly in your work?
My Mother Lisa Borstlp. She is my teacher/guru who guided me with her own enthusiasm and acknowledgement of the beauty of Kolam. And the practicing women, the Tamil, who with their feminine, elegant, graceful and incredible power of endurance have kept the Kolam/Kolangal alive.
They have infected me with Kolam, without me even being conscious of it. It took me more than 30 years to acknowledge it, to open my eyes to it, to realize it was so much a part of me. I had to have others point that out to me.
Its almost like, I was being fed Kolam. And then after 30 years someone asked me, “What is it that you keep eating? Can I also taste it?”
Then as I was trying to make the others taste it, I felt the need to create an order and separate out the ingredients from the recipe and look into the taste, form, shape and history. That is how Kolam Yoga was born to me.
What is your biggest learning from your own work?
To not think I know everything already and have now arrived. Because then it is over. There is still so much to discover and learn. It has just began to unravel. Its the beginning of the journey…
Kolam has helped me heal many illnesses and physical injuries, emotional trauma and much more. It has helped me to become aware of our connectedness.
And simply, it has allowed me the joy of feeling it and experiencing it.