The mandala is a revered geometric figure in Buddhist traditions that represents the universe and functions as a holy area open to deities and forces. They are works of sacred art in Tantric Buddhism and are often completed by Tibetan monks.
There are various forms of mandalas, each with different concepts and purposes. Cosmic Mandalas are believed to transmit the ancient knowledge of the universe, while the Mandalas of the Medicine Buddha portray the healing power of Buddha.
Derived from the Sanskrit word for ‘circle’, mandalas are easily recognisable from their concentric circle patterns. Jeffrey Durham, Assistant Curator of Himalayan Art at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, says a mandala can be approached in many ways. “Most importantly the mandala is a meditative environment that is reconstructed in the mind’s eye,” he adds. “The measure of success in mandala meditation is if you can keep a vision of that mandala in mind for two straight hours without wavering.”
Mandalas can take many forms, including paintings on a wall or a scroll. A Tibetan mandala is usually made with the intricate placement of coloured sand. According to Buddhist scripture, these mandalas transmit positive energies to the universe, and all those who view it. The sand-painting process opens with a traditional ceremony, where monks chant and dance in traditional dress. Using metal funnels called chak-pur, monks work carefully outwards from the inside of the circle. Once complete, the monks pray to their deities.
After the ceremony, the mandala is destroyed, with all the sands being mixed together. The destruction of the mandala represents the impermanence of life. The sand is then swept into an urn and dispersed into flowing water in an effort to extend the healing powers to the rest of the world.
The world’s largest sand mandala was created in Singapore in 2006. It was made by 20 monks from Nepal over 10 days, and comprised more than 2000kg of sand.