What Is A Mandala? – The History Of The Mandala.

Art & Craft
February 2, 2022

Mandala is derived from a Sanskrit word that translates to ‘circle’ or ‘center.’ It is a geometric figure that holds great importance in artistic values in Hindu and Buddhist culture. Traditionally it was represented by the two cultures to perform spiritual and cultural practices along with meditation to focus on one’s psychological mindset. Spiritually, a mandala is a representation of the universe, which is sacred and represents the central point of universal forces into one place. 

A simple diagrammatic representation of the mandala is that it consists of circular rings around one central point, within those circles are different geometric figures like triangles and squares which are followed throughout the circle representing different aspects of the universe. 

The center of the mandala is known to be a cosmic process of reintegration and disintegration, meaning entering and exiting the strength or the core from the central point. Humans believe in this cosmic process as the life and death of a soul and spirits of gods which gathers strengths and weaknesses in an individual. The spiritual practices using mandalas are to date carried out in China, Tibet, and Japan. 

It is said that anciently, people used to create trance by performing rituals and chanting prayers around the mandala as a form of meditation to wash out the bad deeds that happened in the past. 

It signifies the power of the universe coming into one place, which creates joy and eliminates suffering from one’s life. 

Mandala art

A Brief History Of Mandalas

Mandalas were created during the 4th century in the service of Buddhism, being one of the greatest religions in the world. They were then practiced in the eastern and Asian regions like Tibet, India, Nepal, China, Bhutan, Japan, and Indonesia. 

During 560 B.C., in Nepal, Siddhartha Gautama, who is the founder of Buddhism left his kingdom to attain enlightenment by the means of meditation and mental peace. He became aware of human suffering and thought that mental peace and meditation could help one seek a better and peaceful life with less suffering. He started preaching his philosophy across India. Through this philosophy, he gained several followers and established his first Buddhist community of monks named Sangha.

The Buddhist monks traveled the routes that connected the east and west, the ancient networks of trade. This route was called the Silk Road. They carried mandalas along with them to continue Buddhism to other areas in India. They practiced painting mandalas as a form of spiritual compositions of life. They spread this Buddhism philosophy in Asian regions like Tibet, China, and Japan. Mandalas soon became a part of Hinduism and other cultures and communities. 

In 2001, on September 11, the Tibetan Buddhist monks of Drepung Loseling Monastery gifted a special sand mandala to New York City as a goodwill token for the terrorist attack. The mandala ceremony begins with a grand celebration with chants, music and then followed by meditation through which they call upon the forces of strength and goodness. After every ten years, the monks pour colored grains to purify and heal the central healing space of the mandala. They then deconstruct the mandala as a believer of sharing blessings through it. It symbolizes the period of the core strength that was developed by all the chants and prayers, which during dismantling, got distributed between the monks, and now they would rebuild the mandala to seek meditational practices. 


What Does The Mandala Symbolize?

Mandalas are geometric paintings or sculptures that are usually in circles, and each concentric circle represents different symbols and designs. It is said and believed that a mandala is an abstract form of Buddha’s mind, which commonly represents jewels, flowers, trees, and some other circular objects which describe nature. The center or the core of the mandala represents multiple dimensions of divine and devotion. It is where the mandala begins. The core is then surrounded by multiple circles and squares, which represent the cycle of life and the boundaries of human souls. The circles have some commonly observed figures. A few of them are: 

1. Sun And Stars 

Sun being the center of our universe, is considered the same in the mandala. It is meant to release energy, strength, and light to the outside circles. Stars are also considered a symbol of light and energy. 

2. Flowers 

Flowers, especially lotus, are considered to be a sacred symbol of balance in Buddhism. This symbol represents enlightenment and a sense of spiritual awakening. The philosophy behind this comes from the lotus flower, how it grows from underwater into the light. The same is related to humans. 

3. Wheels

The wheels symbolize rebirth and freedom. The wheel is usually with eight spokes that represent the eightfold path of Buddhism. It represents the form of the perfect universe artistically. 

4. Bells

The bell symbol represents positivity and openness of mind. It means that one should let go of the negativity and should have a sense of clarity and wisdom in their thoughts along with a positive nature.

5. Triangle

There are two types of triangles, one facing upward and the other downward. The upward-facing triangle represents energy and action, while the downward-facing triangle represents knowledge and creativity.

There are various other symbols, one of them being a circle, which simply represents the circles of life. In the modern world, when people draw mandalas as an art form on paper or cloth, or sculptures, they add various new symbols as modern art and design. Traditionally, there were particular symbols used which eventually represented life and elements of life. In the modern era, as people are getting fascinated by ancient art, they give a new life to ancient art by adding and modifying the detailing. It is more about creativity now. People use mandalas in various cultures and countries in a spiritual as well as an artistic way. 


A Quick Look At Different Types Of Mandalas

1. Sand Mandala 

Traditionally, sand mandalas are where it all started. Buddhist monks and Navajo cultures used sand mandalas as religious elements. They added colors to the sand symbols into each mandala circle which represented the state of human lives. 

2. Teaching Mandala

As the name suggests, teaching mandalas are taught by teachers or gurus to their students or shishas representing discipline and devotion of a religious system. These types of mandalas are graphical symbols, usually circles, triangles, and lines that have their meaning. The students are then asked to create their mandalas based on what they’ve learned and grasped through the visual classes by their teachers. These types are usually considered to be mental maps for the students. They are also colorful and vibrant art representations. 

3. Healing Mandala

These are more inherent and are solemnly made for meditation purposes. These mandalas are meant to evoke feelings of calm, focus, concentration, and wisdom. 

How Are Mandalas Used?

As mentioned earlier, mandalas are used for meditation and various other religious lore. The ancient Tibetan culture, through the mandala, depicts the enlightened state of Buddha. The patterns on a mandala are created using a small metal tube filled with grains and colors. The tubes help to create an artistic texture to the mandala. After a certain time, the mandala is destroyed and remade. It is done so due to the Buddhist philosophy that nothing is permanent in the universe. 

In recent times, mandalas have been used in various ways. They’re used in healing circles, yoga, and other meditative forms. Mandala printed clothes are used as t-shirts. They’re used in concerts as a background, in music studios. Nowadays, a mandala is made in the form of dream catches which are used as decorative items. It can be gifted and presented as a token of love. 

We at Book A Workshop provide various DIY kits, which include DIY mandala art sets. There are various methods of how you can create your mandala in your unique way. Visit our website to know more about mandala art and various other art forms, and interesting learning kits. 

Art is always unique, no matter how and where it is created.