Invoking Divine Inspiration with Kinnaree

Photography || by Polly C Photography
Creative Direction ||
Amanda Boleman
Costume & Makeup ||
Kinnaree Designs
Model ||
Sima Gandhi

Tucked away at the base of mythological Mount Meru, the legendary forest of Himavanta abounds with mythical creatures of all shapes and sizes. Let your mind run wild for a moment and imagine a host of fantastic beasts with supernatural powers and abilities. Semi-divine serpents, known as the naga, guard temple gates and protect the hidden wealth of the earth. You may also encounter the Apsonsi, a half-woman, half-lion who is believed to be a protector from harm.  

While living in Thailand, the creature I became most fascinated with was the stunning half-bird, half-woman standing at the gates of many of the country’s most frequented temples. This famous Thai mythological character is known as the Kinnaree (Kinnari), a traditional symbol of femininity, grace, and artistic accomplishment. Her bird-like features enable her to fly between the physical and mystical worlds, watching over the wellbeing of humans in times of trouble and danger.

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Originally a figure from India, Kinnaree are renowned for their dance, song, and poetry. They are sometimes compared to the Sirens of Greek mythology, enchanting those around them with their music and beauty. In ancient stories, the female creatures are described with their male counterparts, the Kinnara, as lover and beloved ever-embracing, living a life of perpetual pleasure.

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Kinnaree really came to life for me when Sima moved to Thailand. An OG friend from college, Sima is Kinnaree embodied. When you see the way she moves, you know you are in the presence of a celestial dancer. And if you’re in Thailand, you’ll have many opportunities! Sima returns to the island of Koh Phang’an every year to follow her calling as an artist and performer. As if it could get anymore fitting, she specializes in fire performance, live body painting, and costuming under the name Kinnaree Designs.

“For me, she’s an angel guiding me to connect with the source of creativity, giving me inspiration to create my art. It’s a beautiful thing to see what I’ve created. Yes, it’s visually pleasing to the eye, but it’s an amazing feeling knowing when I’ve successfully materialized the Kinnaree’s power. I make costumes, paint faces, and decorate models into enchanting beings. I know I’ve succeeded when my canvas -- the model, herself -- embodies the Kinnaree energy. As if a switch turned on a light bulb, now she is more confident, strong, playful, and inspired from the inside out,” Sima says of her work.

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I’ve been dreaming of shooting Sima as Kinnaree since we were on the island together back in 2015. This shoot was years in the making. It’s a serious lesson in the power of patience when manifesting your intentions. The seed was planted in 2015, realized in 2018, and it’s finally being released into the world a year after it was shot! Sometimes you can’t rush the process…

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Maybe it would have happened a little faster if I remembered to call on the Kinnaree more often! She is always waiting in the wings when you need a little extra creative inspiration. Here, Sima explains how she works with the Kinnaree archetype:

“I think the best way to work with her energy would be to invoke the goddess. This means praying to her and setting your intentions before every creative session and having faith in the creative process. Your angels are always there for you, but clarity through intention fortifies their ability to best guide you. There have been so many times where I felt zero inspiration but somehow got enlightened seemingly at the last minute. I’ve come to understand that the inspiration will come to me at the right moment.”  

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Many goddesses and representations of the Divine Feminine work in this mysterious way. It’s only when you stop exerting all your effort and surrender to the moment that the magic takes over. Remember this the next time you’re pulling your hair out over what to do for your next creative project. Simply close your eyes and take a deep breath, surrendering your body to the Kinnaree in that moment. Trust that she has your back and will guide you with divine inspiration.