Mandalas on World Environment Day by kids at SMS

The festive season is approaching and in the midst of all the festive spending, one of the things to put a little bit aside for is making a difference in the world. I am a great admirer of the work that Delhi's Srijanatmak Manushi Sanstha does. 

Neelam Thapliyal and Archana Kaul (centre) with one of their SMS kids and me

This is a small organization founded by two friends, Archana Kaul and Neelam Thapliyal, in Delhi, and for years they have been teaching arts and crafts to the children in the slum opposite their home. Their single room in the slum provides a safe haven from the difficult and sometimes dangerous lives these children lead.

The simple circles drawn by the younger ones

I last met them when my husband and I visited the centre on World Environment Day earlier this year. Neelam had the children work on drawing mandalas. Mandalas are circular drawings that represent different things in different contexts. They are employed in both Hinduism and Buddhism to represent sometimes the universe, sometimes deities and their worship, sometimes various energies. They are used to help with concentration during meditation in Buddhism.

Neelam supervised the elaborate mandalas of the older children

I had been wanting to meet the SMS girls for some time by then. Luckily, Neelam was holding a workshop for the children on Environment Day and invited me over. Archana Kaul has described, in her article in Narthaki, how she has been working with these girls from the slums near her house. Neelam and Archana have always inspired me with their work. Archana teaches them dance and Neelam does the work on arts and crafts; she teaches them productive skills which also help them earn a bit of money. I have always looked up to the two of them and the way they have groomed these children over the years to become better people. 

Some of the most beautiful and intricate mandalas made by the SMS children

This time, Neelam held a workshop for mandalas and this particular day was a part of the larger project that she wanted to do with the children. When I asked Neelam about this project, she explained that mandalas were fascinating and were said to help calm and focus the mind. The children saw so much violence in their homes and neighbourhoods, and often also suffered violence and abuse, so she wanted them to work on the mandalas so that they could be engaged in something calming that would also allow them to express their creativity. She said she also wanted the kids to make things that were productive and useful with the mandalas later perhaps. 

The older children have been coming to SMS for years and proudly show off their neat work

It really was amazing to see the enthusiasm among the kids — from the younger ones to the elder ones, they all drew mandalas using various media like watercolours, pens etc. The younger ones made simple circles divided into segments while the older ones used sketch pens, dots of paint and even bindis to make inventive and stunning mandalas painstakingly.

One of the most inventive mandalas and its creator

When I questioned the kids about what they felt about the mandalas, they gave various answers. One said it looked like planets in orbit in representations of the universe. Others said they reminded them of flowers, or disco lights, and even bees in a hive. Many said it was like a representation of the moon and the stars, or a circular illusion. One said it was like a fishbowl, and another that it was like the motion in a washing machine! One said it was like a giant wheel, and another that it was like a circular rangoli. The time, effort and absorption that the children put into these mandalas showed that SMS does make a difference to their personalities and lives.

If you would like to see more about SMS’ work and contact them, please go to their Facebook page by clicking here.

Pics: Anoop Arora