I always begin my likhita japa session with clean hands and a clean work station. Everything is placed neatly in front of me so I do not have to go on a searching expedition while I am chanting. I only bring out the pens which I plan to use. All other tools are stored away so they won’t become a temptation or distraction.
Before I begin writing, I spend some time meditating on a blank piece of paper . When I feel ready then I make certain decisions (which I will not change during my japa) … “what color ink will I use?” “What size will the image be?” “What shape will I follow?” “Do I want to work from some sketches in my journal?” Once I have decided on these basic questions, I then bring out my pencil and start to lightly sketch the design. I avoid drawing any details whatsoever — as the japa, itself, will provide the details and textures for the image. If I am doing a final drawing (and not a sketch in my journal,) then my writing will be done in permanent ink only.
Now my likhita japa session is about to begin. I usually work for several hours straight — with a short break every 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Typically it will take me anywhere from 15-20 hours (sometimes longer) to complete a large mandala. It all depends on the size of the image and density of the likhita japa. My ability to focus has greatly increased with daily japa. I started out only being able to sit for half an hour at a stretch. Now I get lost in time and can sit for many hours without feeling the need to stop … and I no longer get back pains and hand cramps like I used to!
I frequently switch between Sanskrit and English when doing likhita. Each language has it’s own visual texture, and I feel this only enhances the overall image. For example, if I am working on a peacock feather and am following a long slender line, then I might decide to write in Devanagari because of the line that is at the top of the script … this would definitely emphasize a linear gesture!
Only when my likhita japa is finished will I erase the pencil sketch lines. I am a real stickler about not erasing while I work — I don’t want to do anything to disrupt my japa.
One of the hardest things for me is learning to not judge my art while I chant. I am constantly having to remind myself that each image emerges for a reason and I need to appreciate and learn from this process. Many times I’ve had to convince myself to keep going and finish a mandala — only to be absolutely surprised and amazed of the textural richness once it was completed! Learning to work in this discipline has helped me give up the need to control my art. I am learning to embrace, develop and deepen my faith in the visual beauty of the Lord’s name. After all, the whole purpose of likhita japa is to bring one closer to God — and His very name, in all Its different forms, is extremely beautiful to gaze upon. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a “poorly done” likhita japa drawing. If one’s likhita japa is done with true devotion and love, then it will definitely resonate with positive energy when it is finished. All we need to do is just sit quietly … look … and listen.
This is a likhita japa drawing in progress. The pencil lines are sketched in very lightly — just to show composition. The mantra is written in permanent ink using rapidograph pens.