The Mystical Arts of Tibet
On Exhibit in Gallery V at Berea College
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Picture of Monks working Creating a Mandala Sand Painting

The Art of Building a Universe

The mandala sand painting process begins with an opening ceremony, during which the lamas consecrate the site and call forth the forces of goodness. This is done by means of chanting, music and mantra recitation, and requires approximately half an hour.

The lamas then begin the exhibit by drawing an outline of the mandala on the wooden platform, which requires the remainder of the day. The following days see the laying of the colored sands, which is effected by pouring the sand from traditional metal funnels called chak-pur. Each monk holds a chak-pur in one hand, while running a metal rod on its grated surface; the vibration causes the sands to flow like liquid.

Traditionally most sand mandalas are destroyed shortly after their completion. This is done as a metaphor of the impermanence of life. The sands are swept up and placed in an urn; to fulfill the function of healing, half is distributed to the audience at the closing ceremony, while the remainder is carried to a nearby body of water, where it is deposited. The waters then carry the healing blessing to the ocean, and from there it spreads throughout the world for planetary healing.

This closing ceremony is very colorful. Many closing ceremonies in the past have been attended by crowds of hundreds of people, and in some cases several thousand have come. In Tibet, it was the tradition to dismantle the mandala when its purpose had been fulfilled, and this was the fate of 99% of sand paintings. Some monasteries, however, did keep one on permanent display on the grounds that as long as world healing and purification were required the purpose of the sand painting was not yet fulfilled.

Text & Image provided by The Mystical Arts of Tibet.
Image by Bard Wrisley