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Mandala: The Art Of Living

history and symbolism of mandala art

The captivating allure of Mandala art on Instagram has drawn many of us to experiment with its intricate designs and patterns. However, beyond its aesthetic appeal, Mandala art carries profound philosophical and symbolic significance, transcending mere artistry. It’s not just a passing trend, but a creative art form with inherent healing attributes.

Mandala, in essence, represents an artistic branch of a profound life philosophy. It holds great symbolism in the Hindu and Buddhist cultures. Mandala in Sanskrit refers to a “circle” or “discoid object” in a geometric pattern. It is believed to portray various aspects of the universe and is used as an instrument of meditation and a symbol of prayer in Japan, Tibet, and China.

The primary composition of the Mandala incorporates circles within the square boundaries and is arranged into sections meticulously organised around a central point. Traditionally, these intricate designs were crafted on paper, stretched fabric, or even etched onto stone surfaces with either bronze or threads. Just like many folk art forms, Mandala paintings also hold symbolic and spiritual meanings apart from their intense appearance.

What is the Mandala?

Image credits: Christie’s

The Mandala emerges as a profound spiritual symbol, offering multifaceted insights into the nature of existence and the human journey. To comprehend its depth, we can explore it from two distinct yet interconnected perspectives.

Firstly, the external appearance of a Mandala mirrors a visual representation of the universe. Its intricate patterns and symmetrical design evoke a sense of cosmic harmony, symbolising the interconnectedness of all things. Secondly, once we delve into the internal layer of the Mandala, we understand its role as a guiding compass for various practices deeply embedded in Asian traditions, most notably meditation. This inner sanctum of the Mandala serves as a focal point for contemplation and introspection.

Buddhists and Hindus believe that by concentrating on the Mandala and directing one’s focus towards its centre, individuals embark on a profound journey of cosmic transformation. This transformation is guided by the belief that suffering can be transmuted into joy and happiness through this spiritual practice.

A Brief History

Around 560 B.C., in the serene landscapes of Nepal, Gautama Buddha was born. A fascinating folktale recounts the story of Siddhartha, who, after witnessing the profound suffering of his subjects, embarked on a transformative journey. Through meditation and thoughtful action, Siddhartha attained enlightenment. His teachings resonated deeply with the people of India and Nepal, and thus, the journey of Buddhism began. He established the Sangha, the first community of Buddhists.

While travelling the Silk Road, an ancient network of trade routes connecting east and west, these monks carried Buddhism and Mandalas to other lands. During their journeys, they carried not only the wisdom of Buddhism but also the art of drawing Mandalas. These spiritual patterns had their origins in Buddhism but soon underwent transformation as they found a place in Hinduism and other surrounding religions.

By the 4th century, regions such as Tibet, India, China, Nepal, Bhutan, and Indonesia had become hubs for Mandala production. The Buddhist monks of these regions crafted intricate diagrams out of colored sand, practicing non-attachment as they did so. The act of creating Mandalas served as a form of liberation.

Symbolism of Mandala

Mandalas emerged as powerful tools for meditation, aiding in spiritual development. These intricate designs symbolically represented the universe, with their symbols signifying the spiritual journey. At the heart of the Mandala lies the concept of the perpetual cycle of birth, life, and death, emphasising the interconnectedness of all living beings.

Within the Buddhist tradition, the Mandala highlights the potential for enlightenment, much like Gautama Buddha himself, while also illustrating the various obstacles one must overcome to cultivate compassion and wisdom. In contrast, Hinduism focuses on the realisation of one’s divinity.

  • Bell: This refers to openness and emptying the mind in order to clear the path for wisdom and clarity to enter.
  • Wheel with eight spokes: The eight spokes are the eightfold path of Buddhism that leads to liberation and rebirth. The wheel is circular, which represents the universe.
  • Triangle: This represents action and energy if it faces upward, and creativity and the quest for knowledge when it faces downward.
  • Lotus Flower: One of the sacred symbols of Buddhism is the Lotus. The asymmetrical lotus represents balance. Like a lotus reaches out to the light from underwater, so do all human beings. They reach for spiritual insight.
  • Sun: This often carries meaning related to life and energy. This is popular in modern patterns of Mandala.

How to use the Mandala?

Renowned psychologist Carl Jung viewed the Mandala as a representation of the Self and believed that drawing one provides a sacred space for self-discovery, making it an effective form of art therapy. Healing circles and Native Americans have also embraced the art of Mandala, using it for the restoration of body, mind, and heart.

A variety of religious traditions and meditation practises use the Mandala. Patterns are meticulously formed on the ground using metal and small tubes to create texture and organise the grains. Intriguingly, Mandala creation spans weeks, yet shortly after its completion, it is ritually destroyed, symbolising the core Buddhist philosophy that nothing is permanent.

If you’re intrigued by the mystique of Mandala and wish to explore it further, look no further. Rooftop is here to guide your journey into the intricate world of Mandala art. With us, you can explore the art of Mandala in depth and learn more about it through our guided workshops.

Still curious about Indian art? Join us on Instagram at @rooftop_app for all the latest updates, or download the Rooftop app, available for both iOS and Android devices.

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