The making of a sand mandala comes from an ancient Tibetan Buddhist tradition involving ritual geometric patterns made from colored sand.
The creation involves multiple persons, usually 4 monks, who each work on one side of the mandala. It’s a very long procedure.
During the creation a lot of positive energy is aroused and concentrates in that particular spot. Each Buddha has his or her own mandala as it is regarded as the celestial residence of the Buddha. While the Sand Mandala is being created by monks, other monks pray and chant mantras, so this way the energy of the deity is called upon. This way the positive (healing) energies of the mandala are being released to the environment and to those who are around.
So when for example the sand mandala of White Tara is created, a lot of Long Life energy is being aroused and released, as White Tara is the female Buddha of Longevity. A sand mandala of Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion, will generate a lot of compassion energy.
Most sand mandalas are very complicated. The Kalachakra Mandala for example, has not only a complex geometry and structure but also contains 722 deities that are portrayed within mandala. Other smaller mandalas contain fewer deities (or even just one) and require not so much geometry, but still take a week to complete (when yo work on it with 4 people).
In Tibetan this art is called dul-tson-kyil-khor. This literally means mandala of colored powders.
How to create a sand mandala step by step
1) Opening ceremony
Before the sand mandala will be constructed the place is being consecrated by monks who will make music, chant and recite prayers and mantras.
2) Drawing the lines of the mandala
Straight after the opening ceremony, the monks draw the geometric measurements -that are associated with the particular mandala they are making- on the floor. Each mandala has a different grid pattern of lines and circles, that needs to be drawn very meticulously and in the right proportions. The drawing of the mandala sketch alone will take at least one full day with multiple persons.
Two sketch drawings t
Two sketch drawings that are used as the basis for a sand mandala
3) Applying the colored sand
Next the sand granules are applied onto the sketch in great detail by using small, copper funnels (tubes) and scrapers (chak-pur in Tibetan).
The colors for the mandala are usually made with natural sand from the Himalayas, mixed with pigments such as yellow ochre, charcoal or red sandstone. Also flower pollen, corn meal or powdered roots or bark can be used as coloring agents. Mixing colors can create other colors (yellow and blue make green, red and white make pink and so on).
Traditionally, the mandala was not created with sand that was dyed with natural pigments, but it was made with the pure granules of crushed colored stone alone.
A Tibetan monk working on the outer circles of a Sand Mandala and a close up of the sand mandala:
4) Completion of the mandala
Sand mandalas can take several weeks to build because of the large amount of work that is involved. Multiple monks work together on the project, creating one section of the mandala at a time, and working from inside out.
The monks conclude their creation of the mandala with a special consecration ceremony.
5) Dismantling ceremony
Once the sand mandala is completed it is destructed in a ritualistic way, with accompanying ceremonies and prayers.
The different elements are removed in a specific order until at last the complete mandala has been dismantled. The colored sand is sweeped up to symbolize the impermanence of all that exists. Through the mixing of all colors the sand becomes grey. It is collected in a pot wrapped in silk.
A group of monks performing the special ceremony at the end:
6) Dispersal of the sand
Lastly, the sand is carried in a procession by the monks and accompanied by the guests, to a flowing body of water. Here the sand is ceremonially poured into the water, released back into nature. This way all the positive and healing energies of the mandala is spreading through the world, this way blessing all elements and all beings.
Time lapse of the creation of a sand mandala
This video shows the complete making of a sand mandala through a time lapse:
Want to create your own mandala?
If you want to learn how to draw or paint a mandala you can have a look at the upcoming Tibetan Art Classes