An Artist Practices An Ancient Indian Folk Tradition

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Divine Beauty On A City Sidewalk

On a beautiful Friday morning, after a night of violent thunderstorms, I arrived at the Bhakti Center on 1st Avenue to find Mangala Buhler-Rosealready on her hands and knees preparing the sidewalk for her newest mandana. The cement was clean from the rain but the ghosts of last week’s designs were still visible.

Mangala is an artist whose work is inspired by the Bhakti tradition brought to America by Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in 1965. The Center houses a temple, a yoga studio, and a newly reopened café with the intention of uplifting people through music, dance, asana, prayer and food.

This is the perfect place to do mandana, called rangoli in Rajasthan the area of India from which she is most inspired, explains Mangala. Today she is working with non-toxic paint and water to create the symbols on the sidewalks of Manhattan.

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“This is ancient art uses yogic and tantric imagery, symbols and motifs. In some parts of India, this art is traditionally done every morning in front of the home to greet the day. In others, mandana is done for rites of passage, festivals, and other special occasions,” she explains. “And tomorrow we will be celebrating the appearance of the goddesss Radharani so I wanted to offer my design to the goddess.”

In India, floor designs vary with mediums including rice, rice flour, flowers, turmeric, vermillion, sand and more, are very colorful, reflecting that country’s heritage. But, Mangala is particularly inspired by the tradition from Rajasthan where they use a white liquid made from calcium hydroxide and water like whitewash. For the New York City streets, she prefers to use a mix of rice flour and water and, in some circumstances, non-toxic washable white paint with water, making a striking contrast on the sidewalk.