Amongst the different types of religious artwork, the creation of a colorful sand mandala by Tibetan monks are a must- see.
From Nov. 5 to Nov. 9, the USC Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena put on a special event known as the Sand Mandala. This event was a delegation of six monks who carefully and precisely constructed a mandala design from sand using a handful of tools.
The event took place over the course of five days and, an opening ceremony on day one started off with chanting, music, and mantra recitation. The monks begin drawing the design of the mandala, meticulously drawing out each fine line that can take up to three hours to complete.
“The designs of these mandalas are codified in the Tibetan religion, and the monks must follow a strict pattern,” said Christiana Yu, director of the museum.
Over the course of the next couple of days the monks, usually four at a time, spend hours a day pouring millions of grains of sand using a Chakpur, a metal funnel-like tool. This funnel is filled with colored sand delicately filling the pre-drawn lines of the design. The entire mandala is composed using only five colors, representing the northern, eastern, southern, western, and central parts of the universe.
The end product is a beautiful design with an intricate pop of colors that is about four feet in diameter. On the last and final day, a dissolution ceremony takes place when, the monks deconstruct the mandala, handing out the remnants of the colored sand to the audience.
“It’s really amazing how they designed it and the tools they use, it’s a fantastic piece of artwork,” said Ned Lemming, an onlooker of the dissolution ceremony who has followed the days of construction and completion.
During the dissolution ceremony the monks sweep up the colored sand to symbolize the impermanence of the universe. This is done with the intent to showing that there is a start, middle, and finish of all that exists. The colored sand is then distributed to those who attended the ceremony, given as a blessing for their personal health and healing.
The museum has hosted this event a few times and, the last event took place two years ago.
“It really depends on the schedules of the monasteries, they travel the world doing events like these,” said Yu.
The delegation of monks come from the Drepung Gomang Institue in Karnataka, India. The sand painting style Kultson Kyikhor, which means “mandala of colored sand powder,” is one of the oldest artistic traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.
“The word mandala means ‘circle,’ a representation of the universe,” said Yu.
In Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhism, it is said that wherever a creation of a sand mandala takes place, any receptive being and surrounding environment are blessed.