Guest Author - Elsa Neal
A mandala is a traditional Buddhist teaching and healing tool and artwork created out of coloured sand. On one level, the mandala is a symbolic depiction of the palace of a deity. On other levels it is also symbolic of the universe, time, spiritual meditation, the elements, the mind, and the body. The meanings contained in the design are as intricate and detailed as a textbook, and are intended to allow a student to study a specific tantra (sacred ritual or meditation).
The creation and dissolution of a mandala is also intended to assist in the healing of the universe. The healing energy is carried via the river, to the ocean, and into the world.
The mandala process
Following a ritual of prayers and blessings, the design (the palace) is hand drawn on a flat platform in great detail. This outline is then filled in with the coloured sand.
The monks creating the artwork each have a special metal funnel from which they pour the sand. In order to ensure the sand falls evenly over the surface, the funnel has a roughened surface to the handle, and the monks run a metal rod over this area to cause a tiny vibration which shakes the sand out neatly.
After the painting is completed there is usually a day or so for visitors to appreciate the mandala and learn about the symbolism. After a closing ceremony of prayers, the sand forming each specific symbol is collected in a certain order and placed in a jar. The jar is blessed and some of the sand is given to the town where the mandala was created. The rest of the sand is poured into a nearby river, with the intention that the blessings and healing energy of the sand spread to the ocean, and so to everyone in the world.
How to make your own sand painting
While sand painting may be a Buddhist ritual art form, you certainly donít have to be a Buddhist to use the idea. The intricate work is ideal as a focusing tool, which you can use to express any idea you want to work on Ė religious, spiritual, or otherwise.
Materials to use
Use fine sand, coloured with natural plant dyes if possible, or otherwise food colour or dye. Allow the sand to dry thoroughly.
If you just want to play with the idea at first, a small spoon, such as a European coffee spoon, would probably be adequate for placing the sand onto your surface.
There are many items you can use to make a funnel, depending on your resources.
- Rework a sundae spoon by bending the handle inwards to form a funnel or tube, scoop the sand using the spoon side and tilt it to pour the sand through the tube.
- Or glue a straw to a sundae spoon flaring it out into the spoon so that it catches all the sand in the spoon.
- Or fashion your own sand painting tool out of soft metal like tin or aluminium or plastic or wood.
Experiment with roughening the surface on the funnel and using a second tool to create the vibrations for distributing the sand evenly.
If you want to give sand painting a try, Amazon.com has the following kits available, containing the sand and equipment to create your art work:
Create your own sand mandala by Eileen Rose and Abby Rose Dalto
If you want to read more about mandala art work, try The Sand Mandala of Vajrabhairava by Daniel Cozort.