A brief In-depth Look Into Cultural Inspired Mandalas
What is a Mandala?
The meaning of mandala comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “circle.” Although sometimes it may include squares or triangles, a mandala always has a (circular) overall shape. The symbolic meaning of a mandala depends on culture. Today I will be giving you a brief look at 4 types of mandala that come from 4 very different cultures. They may not have a lot of things in common, but one thing that they do is mandalas.
The Four Cultures
Islam influenced mandalas, unlike Christian mandalas, are not restricted to religious creations but possess all the artistic traditions. These types of mandalas are very bright and colourful, but in a religious setting, may be toned down to simple colours. Islam is all about infinity, thus the circle in a mandala represent the fact that they are infinite and never have an ending, reminding Muslims that Allah is also infinite. Mandalas include a variety of patterns that are repetitive in loops. These never-ending patterns and geometric designs aid the viewer in a sense of just how infinite the nature of Allah is. This thesis also reminds the viewer and creator that even in the small, you can seek infinity. Similar to Christianity, mandalas are mostly found in Islamic places of worship such as mosques and places where important people of Allah have deceased. As seen on the Pakistani flag, a crescent moon and a star represent Divine. The ceiling of a mosque is usually decorated with mandalas. The inner dome represents the arch of heavens and miraculously turns the attention of the worshiper towards the presence turns the attention of the worshiper towards the presence of Allah. Some characteristics of Islamic mandalas include geometric shapes and patterns, no presence of people or humans, and calligraphy. Calligraphy is considered as an art form in Islam and so are books. In Islam, even the tiniest destruction to a book is counted as a sin. Writing is important in Islam and calligraphy can usually be found in the center of the mandala or around the perimeter. It may be done in Urdu or Arabic (the main language of the QURAN).
Nowadays, mandalas are created to soothe the mind and are coloured in as a hobby, but for the Buddhist culture, mandalas are part of their culture and rituals. These mandalas are constructed with careful placement of coloured sand and are created by monks. The mandalas that are created with the help of technology, are considered as not sacred. You may think that a mandala takes only 10 minutes to create, but “it is a meditative and painstaking process that can take days or even weeks to complete” (http://www.religionfacts.com/mandala, paragraph 4). One, (a monk), cannot just start to make a mandala abruptly, they must endure weeks of study. Usually, there will be 4 monks who will participate in the creation of one mandala, each one assigned a quadrant to work on. At the halfway point, each monk will be given a helper who will help with only the filling of the colours. Upon the completion of a mandala, the monks request for the healing and blessing of a god or goddess in a religious ceremony. The other monks chant while one of them destroys the mandala with their knuckles and carve out a cross of grey sand. Then another monk gathers all the sand with a paintbrush to the center of the circle and this is considered as a reminder that life is short and only comes around once. The remains are put into an urn and poured into a river. This is done to extend the powers to the world and is a gift to Earth to “re-energize” the environment. In a Buddhist mandala, the squared represent levels of the earth and the circles, levels of the cosmos. A mandala may also include symbols or the Buddha himself. Mandalas are important in Buddhist culture because they believe to transmit positive vibes to the world and it’s viewers when created with sand. Each mandala is different and within it lies a different lesson to be taught. These types of mandalas were introduced by Buddha himself.
Christian influenced mandalas can be spotted on the ceilings and windows in Churches. Mandalas consist of a circular pattern that continues outwards, and in Christianity, some of the most common religious symbols are mandalas and are round including rosaries. Similar to other cultures, in Christianity, the roundness of a mandala symbolizes a way to connect with both earthly and spiritual kingdoms. Mandalas can be found even on the earliest of Christian architecture such as oculi on tops of domes on buildings. Oculi were created to let light and air flow into a building, but because of this purpose, they represented a connection with the universe and spiritual kingdoms. Christian mandalas usually have a story within them and they usually have god or events shown in them. These mandalas can tell a story without words. The overall muntin is the base and the main shape of the mandala and the insides are stained glass details.
Aboriginal mandalas can be easily identified amongst many other because of their characteristics. Similar to all mandalas, they are created with a purpose. Indigenous mandalas are created to portray belief and are seen as a way to connect with the gods. They are created with the envisionment of unifying humans, nature and spiritual beliefs. One may fail to realize that mandalas are not only a type of art that is pleasing to the eye but are also a prop in many rituals, festivals, and tribal dances. Indigenous people use mandalas in these events because they believe that they can connect to the creators of this world better. Dances usually happen around a central point like a fire which can also be interpreted as a human mandala as a whole. Mandalas are also believed to be a shield and a token of good luck. Mandalas can be found around many Aboriginal creations such as the medicine wheel, pottery, and the famous dream catcher. These symmetrical creations are most typically created with coloured sand, feathers, beads, skins of animals, fur, wood, leaves and any other materials usually found in the wild. So how do you identify an aboriginal mandala? Dots! When taking a careful look at this art, you will realize that even the smallest details consist of even smaller dots. These dots can be physically replicated with beads and can be found on pottery and clothes. On dream catchers, the intersecting strings are tied together with beads.