Tibetan Sand Painting

The artistic genius that goes into the creation of a Tibetan mandala is staggering.

The mandala is a symbol of the universe in many eastern and Indian religions. A microcosm of everything, the circular, symmetrical, and colourful designs that create mandalas have been around for thousands of years. Tibetan monks have created these designs out of colourful sand, in a meticulous and laborious process, for countless generations.

It is a tradition in Tibetan Buddhism to create mandala’s out of sand and dismantle them just 14 days later. A sand mandala is ritualistically dismantled once it has been completed and its accompanying ceremonies and viewing are finished to symbolize the Buddhist doctrinal belief in the transitory nature of material life.

Typically, sand mandalas are not made of regular sand that’s been dyed, but rather from crushed colourful rock.

The process begins with monks drawing out a geometric pattern, which acts as a blueprint, over which the sand will be layered. The sand granules are then applied using small tubes, funnels, and scrapers, called chak-pur until the pattern is created.

Sand mandalas traditionally take several weeks complete. It is common for a team of monks to work together on a project, creating one section of the diagram at a time, working from the centre outwards.

The intricate design of the mandalas aren’t just geometrical; they feature a variety of different themes and stories.

The Kalachakra Mandala for instance, portrays 722 deities, and represents the ‘wheel of time.’ It also alludes to a very complex and esoteric Tibetan Buddhist teaching.

The Kalachakra Mandala

Another mandala is the Chenrezig, which represents the embodiment of the compassion of all Buddhas combined. To echo the spirit of compassion, the participating monks will gather in prayer and meditation sessions, also known as puja, at the start and close of each day. Viewers are invited to partake in this ritual as well.

The Chenrezig Mandala

When the mandala is complete, it is ceremonially destroyed. Even the deity syllables are removed in a specific order along with the rest of the geometry until the mandala has been completely dismantled. The sand is then collected in silk and thrown into the ocean,  or near body of water to represent the ephemerality of life and the world.

Many Buddhist temples open their doors to the public to view the creation of these intricate pieces, and you can learn more about the practice here.

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