Sonia Deotto is co-founder and executive director of OraWorldMandala
, a global peace movement whose objective is to use art and activism to spread the practice of ahimsa
(nonviolence). Since 2004, the headquarters of Ora World Mandala Research/Action Lab
have been located at the Peace Research Centre of Gujarat Vidyapith
(a university founded by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920) in Ahmedabad, India, where it functions as a laboratory for research and action to promote nonviolence through art and science in cooperation with local communities affected by social conflicts. The Lab has created an extension program in collaboration with various educational institutions located at its geographical opposite side of the globe along the Tropic of Cancer, in Mexico.
OraWorldMandala has emerged out of research on the Mandala’s concept
, a universal icon of peace. It is a synthesis of three concepts – Ora
: (Latin) “invitation to pray”, World: “our planet and its human continent” and Mandala
(Sanskrit): “circle”. The concept of mandala
has taken shape from the visions of many ancient traditions and civilizations where external reality is perceived as a reflection of human consciousness. The mandala
represents that human beings are interconnected with each other and with the earth through five elements that are manifested in many forms (from the space and air that we share, to the plants and animals that are the part of the life cycle). Because humans lack consciousness of this connected relationship, the project aims to magnify our harmony with this interdependence. The art and science of a “World Mandala” is a way to express the interdependence among all beings.
Trained in Italy as a social artist, Sonia experienced a life-changing moment at the age of 28 years when she met the Dalai Lama in 1999. He suggested she study Gandhian philosophy to attain inner and outer peace. Thus started her journey of self-discovery. She became a research fellow at Gujarat Vidyapith, involved in organizing with twelve religious communities of Ahmedabad a series of peace actions as part of a reconciliation process. Her aim was to connect India with a country on the other side of the Earth – Mexico – while experimenting with the tenets of Gandhian philosophy: truth, non-violence and compassion. “My outlook was transformed once I got involved in [the] project,” Sonia said in 2008
. “It gave me a fresh perspective on life. Now, I feel I’m helping others while growing spiritually myself.”
The OraWorldMandala project seeks to promote cohesion among people through artistic representation of mandalas
via global community offerings of the five elements (earth, fire, water, air, space). The project organizes various events (called “actions”) in communities around the world. The first action was conducted at Sabarmati Ashram (Gandhi’s ashram) in Ahmedabad on April 23, 2005, with 500 people from 8 different religious communities coming together in a congregation where they sang devotional songs, worshipped, prayed and shared their lunch in order to experience the essence of Mahatma Gandhi’s message of harmony. The action culminated in an offering of one of the five elements, earth. All 8 religious communities brought soil from their respective sacred places and placed it in a common receptacle. Subsequent actions have taken place in both India and Mexico, involving offerings of the natural elements, art, music, and prayer by children and others in various communities.
Sonia lives between India and Mexico to serve the OraWorldMandala.
Five Questions with Sonia Deotto
What Makes You Come Alive?
I was reborn in India 16 years ago thanks to the joy of sharing the vision of a "World Mandala" with people of different religions. This collective intention drove the action and Ahimsa became the hub of the OraWorldMandala peace movement. Since then I have been serving the movement and trying to practice Ahimsa through the art and science of Mandala. The co-creation of five elements Mandala representations built by communities who are experiencing social conflicts is the first step in the Constructive Programme of Mahatma Gandhi, a "one-to-one" call for unity in diversity. We are walking this path at the antipodes of the world to resonate with the autonomy of the people: on one hand, at Gujarat Vidyapith, the university founded by Mahatma Gandhi in India and, at the other hand, with the Indigenous Cooperative Farmers Union Tosepan Titataniske (in Nahuat: united we will win!) where we are offering Satyagraha for the defense of Life threatened by multi-national corporate predators.
Pivotal turning point in your life?
In 1999 I had the honor to transform a museum into a three-dimensional Mandala art installation as an offering to welcome the Dalai Lama, in Milan, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of his Nobel Peace Prize. It was during the opening of the art installation that, for security reasons, the "in case of emergency plan" went into action. In this moment of tension and uncertainty, with extreme calm and strength His Holiness took the time to tell me: "You are Indian, come to India". This episode marked a watershed, turning my professional career into a social mission and a source of happiness, as my work gives me the opportunity to serve the people and learn from them. After two months I left my Italian life behind and went to India to begin the journey of a World Mandala for Ahimsa with my Soul Family. At that time I wasn't even aware of the existence of the word 'Ahimsa', but deep in my heart I was already determined to look for a way of making my art useful for society.
An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
One of the warnings in the path of consciousness is the understanding of the power of kindness. I could perceive it for the first time as an indelible mark in 2005, when my teacher Ravindra Varma, Indian freedom fighter and at that time Chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapith, simply replied to my "Thank you" with a "Thank you for thanking!". Until that moment to me Varmaji was "too good to be true". My background was too harsh to comprehend the deepness of the many acts of kindness performed by this Old Man. It was unbelievable and almost disquieting the effort he made at his age to remember the name of each and every one he was crossing along the way! It was an inner struggle within myself to believe in this expression of love, but my teacher has been so kind to accept my ignorance and tell me in only three words (thank you for thanking) that the capacity to appreciate the kindness of others is the only way to develop your own kindness and transform yourself for the benefit of the others.
One Thing On Your Bucket List?
Many years ago I was a painter and my lama suggested to me a special Tibetan Thangka to paint as a meditation.
One-line Message for the World?
It's the time to re-connect consciousness with body and the Human Continent with Planet Earth.