Women writers, Sufism and quaint little towns come together in the literary coasters that make a great gift for booklovers. In conversation with Soulscapes.
If you’ve ever visited a Tibetan monastery, you’ve probably seen a Mandala without even realizing that you are looking at something that symbolizes the wholeness and harmony of the Universe. My first recollection of being dazzled by a Mandala is while gazing upon the magnificent three dimensional Kalachakra mandala in the Potola Palace in Lhasa, Tibet (Kalachakra means wheel of time, and when you come to think of it, the phrase is a fairly apt synopsis of Buddhist philosophy).
Over the years, I came across a variety of Mandalas, particularly in Tibet and Spiti (also in Frank Underwood’s White House in Season 3 of House of Cards), but I had never met a Mandala artist. Vivechana Saraf, the co-creator of the four literary coasters in our Booklover Story Box, makes new age Mandalas that are inspired from different cultures as well as spiritual teachings. But when you get talking to her, you realize she is so much more – voracious reader, skilled bookbinder, Rumi lover, traveller, teacher, philosopher and guide.
In conversation with Vivechana about Soulscapes, her design inspirations and her literary loves.
Could you tell us a little bit about Soulscapes, the kind of women who love Soulscapes, and the team that works with you in designing and creating these products?
For me Soulscapes is all about expressing beauty, and I do that through the medium of Mandala art. When you look closely at everything around you, you realize that there seems to be an almost flawless design in the universe. I started making Mandalas in 2007 in an attempt to express this perfect harmony. It was very instinctive, I just felt that it was a wonderful medium to express what I felt, that when you send something to the Universe, it sends something back to you. Initially I used to do the artwork by hand, in ink and colour, but now I make them digitally.
All the designing and execution is done by me, I don’t have the luxury of a team (laughs). I have a degree in commerce and a diploma in commercial art, so I have been a designer and a communicator all my life. But I’m also a big idealist, because of which I kept moving from one job to another. You can say that I’ve been always been a misfit everywhere (laughs again).
For the last decade, I have been working with the Sri Aurobindo Society in Pondicherry, wearing multiple hats from publication to branding and business development. So for the last few years, I have been juggling Soulscapes with my full time job at the Society. Recently I decided to devote more time to Soulscapes. But I still spend a few months in a year in Pondicherry, you can say it’s my spiritual home and the font of my inspiration.
As for the kind of people who enjoy my work, I would say anyone who believes in something beyond the mundane, anyone who is willing to chase a dream, anyone who loves taking journeys within and outside. Basically someone who is open and curious about the world.
Since we are including your product in our booklovers box, we’d love to know some of your favourite books?
You know I am a compulsive reader – I even read billboards! I’ve grown up in a house full of books, and since I had three elder sisters with very diverse reading interests, I have read everything from Mills & Boons to psychology and philosophy.
I used to be a big fan of fiction, but for the last few years I have been reading mostly non fiction. Books that I have enjoyed immensely, or those that have left have a deep impact on my life, include To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafaq and A New Earth by Eckhard Tolle. Now my reading interests are more in topics such as Integral Yoga, Alternate Healing and Sacred Geometry.
What is your favourite guilty read?
The only book I feel guilty reading these days is Harry Potter!
I’d love to hear a bit more about the coasters: the philosophy behind them and how you went about designing them.
As you know, the original version of the coasters had quotes by Rumi. It was a Sufi whirling workshop that I attended about six years ago that led to my interest in Sufism and Rumi. I love that Sufism is not dogmatic, all it preaches is freedom and love. As for Rumi, he says so much in just a few words, I am so fascinated by him that I even created an iPhone app called Captivating Rumi.
As for the artwork of the coasters, these are photos that I took in small towns in Brazil and Italy.
The coaster with the Jane Austen quote (lower left) was clicked in the beach town of San Remo, which lies on the Mediterranean coast in north western Italy. Hidden within the touristy beach resorts and hotels is an old town with twisted streets and cobbled pathways.
The other three pictures in the series are from a Portuguese heritage town in Brazil called Paraty. The town seeks to preserve Portuguese culture and does not permit any vehicles to ply within its realm, which is a boon for explorers like me to walk through its cobbled streets and admire the striking architecture and the myriad colours.
Any other ways they can be used, apart from as coasters?
In Brazil a lot of street names are written on tiles, so I think these coasters would make great tiles. They can also used as wall hangings.
What’s the best way to store the literary coasters? Are there any other pointers that you have?
Whatever you do, please don’t dunk them in water! Since they are laminated, just wipe them with a clean cloth and they will last you for years.
What are some of your favourite books & reading accessories? Any suggestions on gifts for booklovers?
A few years ago I studied book binding and book art. As part of that, I spent two years dissecting the various ways books were bound through the ages, and I also did a lot of book binding myself. During that time, I stumbled upon the bone folder, a simple tool used to score (crease or fold) papers, and that is my favourite bookish accessory now.
I have been surrounded by book lovers all my life and one of the best gifts for them is a gift card to a bookshop At one time, book ends were very much in vogue and made great gifts to help line up your favourite books. But mostly book marks, journals or anything paper related works well. Avid book lovers like nothing better than the whiff of paper as you open a new book!
What have you planned next for Soulscapes?
I am a Mandala artist first and foremost, so most of my current and upcoming work is connected with Mandalas. My Mandala artwork is available in niche stores across India, I hold workshops on Mandala art, and also make personal Mandalas to help people realize specific goals. I am also planning to launch an online course on sacred geometry and Mandala art.
The spirit of my work is about unearthing beauty and light in the world, so I am also working on a line of lamps right now. I am truly grateful that everything I’ve learnt in life is coming out in different ways through Soulscapes.
What kind of designs and designers do you personally enjoy?
Life itself offers the most synchronized design. I also love nature, travel, native art and crafts (particularly cane, bamboo and thread). I have a special fascination for people who work with their hands. I believe art is everywhere around us – in music, dance, photography, food, travel. As for products, I have a soft corner for those that come with a dash of whimsy.
Editors’ Note: The four coasters have been conceptualized and designed by Soulscapes, the quotes on the coasters have been contributed by the MBRB team.
Are you a booklover who loves literary accessories? Click here to get an exclusive #BookloverStoryBox with the exclusive Soulscapes literary coasters, an Anand Prakash bookmark and a hand stitched journal.
Mandala image courtesy Soulscapes, all other images are the property of My Big Red Bag. You may link to the images but please do not reuse them without prior written permission.