Mandala Art: An Ancient Spiritual & Symbolic Art

Tania, my lovely daughter-in-law is a fantastic Mandala artist. Her passion for Mandala art intrigued me to learn about the mandala art. She posts are mandala arts in her Instagram: Mandala_Art_Tania. In this post, I will give you a brief introduction to mandala art, its history, types, meanings, and uses. I hope you will find it interesting and inspiring!

What is Mandala Art?

Mandala art is a form of expression that has been used for centuries by various cultures and religions. The word mandala means “circle” in Sanskrit, and it refers to a geometric design or pattern that represents the cosmos, deities, or spiritual concepts.

In the oriental religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Shinto, mandala art is used as a map representing deities, or especially in the case of Shinto, paradises, kami or actual shrines. A mandala generally represents the spiritual journey, starting from outside to the inner core, through layers.

Mandalas can be found in many forms and styles, from the intricate sand mandalas of Tibetan Buddhism to the colorful yantras of Hinduism. They can also be created by anyone, regardless of their artistic skills or background. All you need is some paper, a pencil, a ruler, a compass, and your imagination.

A yantra is similar to a mandala, usually smaller and using a more limited colour palette. It may be a two- or three-dimensional geometric composition used in sadhanas, puja or meditative rituals, and may incorporate a mantra into its design. It is considered to represent the abode of the deity.

Yantra. (2022, August 20). In Wikipedia.

Each yantra is unique and calls the deity into the presence of the practitioner through the elaborate symbolic geometric designs. According to one scholar, “Yantras function as revelatory symbols of cosmic truths and as instructional charts of the spiritual aspect of human experience”.

Mandala art is very popular like other famous paintings in history. Basically mandalas are circles contained within a square and arranged into sections that are all organized around a single, central point. Mandalas are typically produced on paper or cloth and drawn on a surface with threads, fashioned in bronze, or built-in stone.

Traditionally, mandala art is circular in design, but in modern terms a mandala can be any symbol that helps to focus the mind. They are often drawn with a square and four gates containing a circle with a centre point, but I have seen many that don’t necessarily fit the traditional description.

Mandalas are often used as tools for meditation, prayer, healing, or art therapy.

The History of Mandala Art

Mandala art has a long and rich history that dates back to ancient times. The earliest evidence of mandala art can be found in India, where it was used as a spiritual and ritual symbol by Hinduism and Buddhism. The Buddhist monks traveled along the Silk Road, a network of routes connecting the East and the West. As a result, it allowed them to bring Buddhism to other lands. These monks carried mandalas as they traveled, spreading the art form to other parts of Asia.

Mandala art was also adopted by other religions and cultures, such as Jainism, Christianity, Islam, and Native American tribes. Mandala as an art form first appeared in Buddhist art that were produced in India during the first century BCE. These can also be seen in Rangoli designs in Indian households.

The term ‘mandala’ appears in the Rigveda as the name of the sections of the work, and Vedic rituals use mandalas such as the Navagraha mandala to this day.

In Natyashastra, the Sanskrit treatise for the Indian arts, Bharata Muni mentioned that before artists performed an art on the stage, one symmetrical mandala adorned with colours and flowers was drawn on the stage. Then the Gods were worshipped and invoked to occupy their places on the Mandala. This scripture was drafted during the period 200 BCE – 200 CE.

Alpana is another important aspect of any auspicious rituals in Bengali homes. Be it wedding, puja and other such rituals, alpana must be drawn on altar, on floors or on chowkis or pidhi. The practice of Alpana is believed to be coming down since the era of Indus valley civilization; similar motifs are seen in pots and vases of Harappa and Mohenjodaro.

Colourful alpana done by Tania at the mandap of Durga Puja last year at our Maitraee Club, Ranchi, Jharkhand.

Rangoli finds its roots in the Vedic times of Hinduism. Lopamudra, the wife of sage Augustya Rishi started to make rangoli, a decoration for the Yagya Kunda, a place of worship. She also wrote 2 portions of the Rigveda.

The Maya civilization tended to present calendars in a form similar to a mandala. It is similar in form and function to the Kalachakra (Wheel of Time) sand paintings of Tibetan Buddhists.

Mandala art was used for various purposes, such as expressing cosmology, creating sacred spaces, aiding meditation, enhancing healing, and invoking protection. Mandala art was also seen as a way of connecting with the divine and achieving enlightenment.

The Types of Mandala Art

There are many types of mandala art that differ in style, shape, color, and meaning. Some of the most common types of mandala art are:

  • Sand mandalas: Sand mandalas are colorful mandalas made from sand that are ritualistically destroyed. They originated in India in the 8th-12th century but are now practiced in Tibetan Buddhism. These are made by Tibetan Buddhist monks and Hindu Tantric priests who use colored sand to create intricate patterns on a flat surface. Sand mandalas are usually destroyed after completion to symbolize the impermanence of life.
  • Yantras: These are square-shaped mandalas that contain a circle with a deity in the center. Yantras are used by Hindus to summon the god or goddess to help them discover cosmic truths.
  • Floral mandalas: These are mandalas that feature flowers or petals as the main elements. Floral mandalas are often associated with nature, beauty, and harmony.
  • Geometric mandalas: These are mandalas that use geometric shapes and patterns to create symmetry and balance. Geometric mandalas are often linked to mathematics, logic, and science.
  • Abstract mandalas: These are mandalas that do not follow any specific rules or patterns. Abstract mandalas are often created intuitively and express personal feelings and emotions.

Mandala art can be a creative and therapeutic practice for anyone who wants to explore their inner world and express their emotions. It can also help to reduce stress, increase focus, and enhance mindfulness. Mandala art is a beautiful and powerful practice that can enrich your life in many ways.

14 thoughts on “Mandala Art: An Ancient Spiritual & Symbolic Art

    1. Yes, sure. The circular pattern of Arabic Mandala is a ritual symbol in Indian culture which represents universe. It also has a meaning of unity and harmony. The mandala art in Islam is a combination of geometric arrangements and cultural motifs.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Wonderful and detailed explanation. Thanks for bringing out the connection with Alpana. Have some exposure to Mandala thanks to my wife who uses crochet for mandala creations. Have also seen references to sand mandalas in some movies/serials, but more as a humorous set-off.

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  2. The word mandala was brought to my notice through the Zouk bag that I just bought which had this exotic design on it. Intrigued by the art work, I searched up on it to find more of this amazing art work and now I see the fabulous work of your daughter in law. The history behind this art is also enchanting and somehow I find a connect with the south as the word mandalam is a cycle of time, a circle or a territory that can be traced to Chola time period.
    A wonderful post that is a marvel of our rich traditions.

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