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Sand Mandalas: A Exquisite Tibetan Buddhist Sand Art

  • by Eric
  • Last Updated: 2020-11-30

Sand Mandala is the most unique and exquisite religious arts in Tibetan Buddhism. During large-scale ritual activities, the lamas in the temple use millions of sand grains to depict the grand world of the Buddhist country. This process may last for several days or even several months. However, the precise sand art created by the lamas with great efforts is not used to show the world its beauty. The world depicted in the sand will be swept away without hesitation, and it will disappear in an instant. And those sand will be put into bottles and poured into rivers. 

How to describe a sand mandala?

To put it simply, sand mandalas are a sacred and ancient Tibetan Buddhist art form. The meaning of the word 'mandala' in the Sanskrit language is 'a circle“, also it refers to the gathering place of all sages and merits. If we look a little deep into its religious linkage, 'mandala' is the term used to represent harmony and wholeness at the heart of the Tibetan Buddhist universe. It's originated from 2,500 years ago, the Buddha himself taught his disciples to make a sand altar. This exquisite religious art has been passed down from generation to generation. In the eleventh century, it's spread from North India to Tibet and had been preserved till today.

Sand mandalas are a sacred and ancient Tibetan Buddhist art form.

Sand mandalas are a sacred and ancient Tibetan Buddhist art form.

There is much more to it than just a colorful pattern

If you see it as an art, you will perceive a sand mandala to be a colorful geometric pattern. However, if observing deeply, a sand mandala is a two-dimensional blueprint of a spiritual structure. It’s a representation of an actual three-dimensional structure of Buddha's celestial palace that has enlightened beings. In simple words, it is a bird's eye view from directly overhead.

Every single color, pattern, deity, etc. is a representation for different qualities of the body, mind, as well as the speech of an enlightened being, that is, a buddha.

A key feature of meditation practices

Mandalas are also considered to be an essential feature of Tantric deity meditation practice. These types of meditations are considered to be one of the most powerful ways in which you can overcome your ordinary perception of the world.

There are individuals who meditate upon the great symbolic nature of mandalas. Thus, transforming their vision of the world completely. This is when these individuals are joining the world and living styles of buddhas.

Types of mandalas

There are five main types of mandalas, namely:

  1. Sand
  2. Painted
  3. Three-dimensional
  4. Visualized
  5. Body

The significance and meaning of a sand mandala

When we talk about Tibetan Buddhism, sand painting is one of the ancient traditions in the artistic aspect. In Tibetan language, sand mandalas are referred to as Kultson Kyikhor. The literal meaning of this Tibetan phrase is ‘a mandala of colored sand powder.’

In Tibetan culture, it is a belief that when young children see the sand mandala, they get positive energy. Therefore, resulting in a peaceful and harmonious behavior when they grow older.

Sand mandalas are made and used as tools for blessing the earth as well as the inhabitants on it. If we go by the beliefs of Tibetan Buddhists, each sand mandala has its own outer, inner, as well as secret meaning associated with it.

On the outer aspect, it's the signs of a divine form, while on the inner point, it's a way for a being to transform into an enlightened one. As for the secret level, a sand mandala signifies an ideal balance of different energies of the body.

All these different aspects join together to purify the heart of a human being and perform healing at different levels too.

Constructing a perfect sand mandala

The process of construction of a sand mandala is a detailed and precise one. A series of steps are involved in its creation.

The opening ceremonyDrawing of the lines of the mandala

Before beginning with the design of the sand mandala, the place of construction is first consecrated by the Buddhist monks. They recite different prayers, chants, and mantras and make music for the opening ceremony.

Drawing of the lines of the mandala

A sand mandala is a geometrically accurate one. Therefore, the monks first draw all the geometric measurements that are associated with the creation of the sand mandala. For every sand mandala, these measurements differ. Each geometric measurement is an accumulation of precise lines and circles that can be drawn with the right proportions on the floor. Making the geometric measurements of the mandala takes about one day with multiple monks working on it. They make use of white ink pens, a compass, and a ruler to get their measurements right.

Application of colored sand

After the completion of the geometric sketch, it is time for the monks to fill in the colors. Great detail iApplication of colored sands involved in applying the colorful sand granules onto the sketch. The monks make use of very small copper tubes or funnels along with scrapers to fill in the sand of desired colors.

The different colors that are used in the sand mandala are designed with natural pigments from the Himalayas. These are then mixed with different pigments like red sandstone, yellow ochre, and charcoal. A few other materials used as pigments are corn meal, flower pollen, or even powdered roots or barks can be used.

The mixing of different colors results in further detailed colors for the mandala. For example, yellow and blue together make the green color. When the art first began, a mandala was not created with sand. Instead, it was dyed with natural colors. In those times, the pure granules of crushed colored stone were utilized.

Completing the sand mandala

Completing the sand mandala with precision takes quite a few weeks. This is because there is a large amCompleting the sand mandalaount of detail involved in its creation. There are many monks working on the same sand mandala. They work on it together and go as per different sections of the mandala to complete it timely. After the completion of the mandala, there is a special consecration ceremony held for it.

Deconstructing a sand mandala

After completion of the sand mandala, it holds great significance. Therefore, it is deconstructed in a very orderly manner, too - from outside to the inside. There is a proper ritualistic method that is accompanied by several ceremonies and prayers.

 The colored sand that is removed signifies the impermanence of everything that exists on the earth. When the sand of different colors is mixed, it turns into grey-colored sand. This sand is collected in a pot that is wrapped in silk fabric. This sand is then poured into the water as a ceremonial act, and the whole world feels the energy of the sand mandala.


A sand mandala begins with a dot in the center. This dot represents the primary deity of the mandalDeconstructing a sand mandalaa. Therefore, at this central dot, a deity is drawn. During the initial drawing phase of the mandala, the outsiders do not have permission to view the ceremony or construction. The opening ceremony itself is an extensive one and involves a lot of prayer chanting, music, and dancing. Drawing a sand mandala is a highly authentic and elaborate process.

Some explain that the theme of Sand Mandala is to show the illusion of the world. What gets destroyed is the external mandala, while the internal mandala in Lamas' minds is getting stronger. The dispersing of the sand mandala represents that all things return to its original state in the heart after death. In addition, it expresses the impermanence and emptiness of the world.

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