The Tibetan Sand Mandala

  • By Carolyn Roark
  • August 2014

The Tibetan sand mandala is a beautiful thing, astonishing in its complexity and colour, remarkable both for the effort that goes into its construction and the readiness of its makers to destroy it upon completion.

Something between painting and sculpture, the process involves the careful arrangement of coloured grains of sand into piles and patterns, forming a large canvas like an elaborate map with raised topographical features. It is part of a larger tradition in Buddhist ritual arts, which include dance, sculpture, music, chanting, and painting. In addition to a particular mandala—made of coloured particles such as flowers, rice, powder, or sand—the patterns may either be painted, drawn, or sculpted in three dimensions with materials like wood, metal, and stone. They may also be mentally envisioned through meditation. Scholarly analysis on mandala building practices,along with other forms of Buddhist art, especially performance, is a relatively young discipline outside of anthropological circles. While scholars and artists writing on Buddhist ritual arts do not ignore the fact that the building process is central to various visual media, they have not fully investigated the inherent theatricality of many, especially mandalas’

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