The Sacred Art of Sand Mandalas ——Construction and Destruction

A mandala is a symbolic picture of the universe, used in Tibetan Buddhism and other faiths. The mandala’s purpose is to help transform ordinary minds into enlightened ones and to assist with healing. Sand mandalas are particularly used in Tibetan Buddhism. According to Buddhist scripture, mandalas constructed from sand transmit positive energies to the environment and to the people who view them. They are believed to effect purification and healing. There are many different designs of mandala, each with different lessons to teach.

The mandala represents an imaginary palace that is contemplated during meditation. Each object in the palace has significance, representing an aspect of wisdom or reminding the meditator of a guiding principle. The Tibetan mandala contains deities, with the principal deity in the centre of the pattern. The deities who reside in the palace embody philosophical views and serve as role models.

It usually takes Tibetan Monks several days to design and place tiny grains of sand to create a beautiful work of temporary art, then it will be destroyed immediately once it is finished.

1. Opening Ceremony

 Chinese Culture

The mandala sand painting process begins with an opening ceremony, during which the lamas consecrate the site and call forth the forces of goodness. The monks chant and dance in resplendent dress. This event is visually and acoustically striking.

2. Drawing of the Lines

 Chinese Culture

After the Opening Ceremony the monks start drawing the line design for the mandala. The design of the mandala is marked with chalk on a wooden platform. This is very meticulous work that takes about several hours to complete.

3. Mandala Construction

 Chinese Culture
 Chinese Culture

Then the monks use metal funnels called chak-pur to place millions of grains of dyed sand to make the elaborate patterns. The vibrations of the serrated chak-pur being grated with a metal rod cause the sand to flow like liquid. The mandala is constructed from the centre outwards.

4. Mandala Completion

 Chinese Culture

This mandala took several days to complete. The monks conclude their creation of the mandala with its consecration. In some cities, several thousand guests have attended the closing ceremony.

5. Dismantling the Mandala

 Chinese Culture

Once the mandala is complete, it is ritually destroyed. During the Closing Ceremony, the monks dismantle the mandala, sweeping up the colored sands to symbolize the impermanence of all that exists. Half of the sand may be distributed to the audience in small bags as blessings for personal health and healing.

6. Dispersal of the sand

 Chinese Culture

The monks, along with spectators, travel to a body of water. The sand is then ceremonially poured into the water in order to spread the healing energies of the mandala throughout the world. It is seen as a gift to the mother earth to re-energise the environment and universe.

by Xiao Xiao

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March Fair Festival of Bai Ethnic

March Fair is the grandest festival of the year for the Bai ethnics. Held from the 15th day to the 21st day of the third lunar month every year at the foot of the Mount Cangshan, west to the ancient city of Dali, the Bai hold the festival mainly for harvest. Bai Ethnic


History and Origin


There are two legends about the festival.

One legend goes like this. At the beginning of the Tang Dynasty (618 -907 AD), the devil called Luocha occupied the territory of today’s Dali and persecuted the people. During the zhenguan Period (627-649 AD), Bodhisattva from the today’s India subdued the devil and save people from the suffer. Ever since, people would gather at the ancient town, offering vegetables to Bodhisattva. Bai Ethnic
The other legend has it that back in the period of Nanzhao State (938-1253 AD), the Bodhisattva came to Dali to speak on Buddhism on the 15th of the third lunar month, and then the Daili became a place for loyal believers to pay homage. As time went, for Dali’s strategic location, the city became a prosperous trade market in the region and a grand festival for the local people.

Currently there is no reliable record of the start of March Fair. But these two local legends offer an interesting explanation. Even though the two legends fail to give reasonable and convincing reasons on the history of the occasion, they at least show the fair was related to religion at its first stage.


Present-Day March Fair


Bai Ethnic Nowadays March Fair has become a prosperous commercial fair with tens of thousands of participants and a total volume of trade of over ten millions each year. During the March Fair, the streets at Dali town are competing with stalls selling a variety of items. Bai Ethnic March Fair is also a commodity and cultural fair. Besides the Bai ethnic people, other minority groups such as the Yi, Tibetan, Naxi, Nu, Hui in that region will all throng to the fair that day and horse race and other traditional folk activities are held. People gather there to enjoy dances, horse racing and other activities. It is now an official festival of the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture.

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Torch Festival of Bai Ethnic People

The Torch Festival is a traditional festival celebrated among some ethnic groups in southwestern China, such as the Yi, Bai, Hani, Lisu, Naxi, Pumi and Lahu etc. The festival features lighting up torches, hence its name. It usually falls in early June of the lunar calendar or on the 24th or 25th of the month, with three days of celebrations. Bai Ethnic




The origin of the festival may have something to do with the worship of fire by ancestors, who believed fire had the power to repel insects, drive away evils and to protect crop growth. For some ethnic groups, it is a tradition in the festival for elders to share farming experience with young people and educate them on taking care of crops.


Setting up Torch


Bai Ethnic The Bai celebrate the annual Torch Festival on the 25th of the sixth month of the Chinese lunar calendar in a special way. They wear costumes and butcher pigs and sheep for a feast. Children dye their fingernails red with a kind of flower root. On the eve of the festival, people get everything ready for the big celebration. They set up a large torch about 20 meters high made of stalks and pine branches. On the top of the torch sits a large flag. Several small flags are fixed around the torch, printed with auspicious Chinese characters meaning peaceful land, favorable weather, bumper harvest, and abundant farm animals. Fruits, fireworks, and lanterns are hung around the torch.


Worshipping Ancestors and Horse Riding


Bai Ethnic
The next day, people first go to their ancestors’ tombs and hold a memorial ceremony, bringing offerings and burning small torches and papers that symbolize money. People have dinner earlier than usual. Then, after dinner, the young and the old gather at the village square to watch the big torch and go horse riding. Both adults and children take part in the horse riding. Before they ride away, they go around the torch three times. Those who don’t ride the horse go home to enjoy the torches in front of the houses and then select the most beautiful torch of the village. Young mothers carry babies on their back and walk around the village torch three times to pray for the health of their babies.


Lighting Torch

Bai Ethnic Bai Ethnic At nightfall, the senior people of the village lead the other villagers to offer sacrifices to the torch and to kowtow. After this is done, several young men climb up the torch and light it. In no time, a flame rages, accompanied by drumbeats and the sound of firecrackers. Such a spectacular scene it is! As the fire continues, broken bamboo sticks fall to the ground and people try their best to catch them. Those who catch the sticks are thought of as lucky and are warmly congratulated. The lucky ones entertain the other villagers at their homes with cigarettes, wine, and tea.


Torch Playing


Bai Ethnic The festival reaches its climax with the traditional torch playing. Young men and women hold a torch. When they meet someone, they scatter colophony powder onto the torch fire and the fire flares up. People think this expels whammy from their bodies. Then, young people go to the farms and fields with the torch in the hope of eliminating pests. Near the end of the celebration, people lay torches on the ground and set them on fire. Now it is time for people to jump over the fire three times, one by one. They jump and pray to the god of fire for security and good luck. Finally, they go home filled with excitement and the celebration ends.

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Philosophy of Life in Three-Course Tea of Bai Ethnic

China is a tea-drinking nation. For the Bai, tea is a popular drink. They normally drink tea twice a day, in the early morning and at noon. The tea drunk in the early morning is called “morning tea” or “wakening tea,” and is consumed immediately after getting up. The tea drunk at noon is called “relaxing tea” or “thirst-satisfying tea.” People often add some popcorn and milk to their tea. Bai Ethnic




The Bai began to plant tea and make tea long ago, and they have formed their unique tea culture on tea drinking, which is called “Three-course Tea of Bai Ethnic”. Early in Ming (1368-1644 AD) and Qing (1616-1912 AD) Dynasty, the Three-course Tea had already become a conventional way that Bai ethnic treat visitors.


What Is Three-Course Tea?


The Three-course Tea is a tea drinking ceremony practiced by the Bai ethnic group on holidays or when treating honored guests. Every course has different taste, implying the philosophy of life that “bitter the first, sweet the second and aftertaste the third.” This ceremony was originally held by the senior members or the most reverent member of a family.


Three Courses


Bai Ethnic For the first course of tea, the tea needs to be put into a small pottery jar first and roasted on fire until the tealeaves become yellow and give off a charred smell. After added with boiled water, the tea is ready for drink in small cups. It is amber in color with rich fragrance and a bitter taste, meaning that one will suffer a lot before she/he starts his or her career.

By adding new water into the jar, boiling and pouring the tea into a bowl with brown sugar and walnuts, the second course of tea is done. The tea is fragrant and sweet, symbolizing the meaning of “no sweet without sweat”.

The third course is made through pouring boiled tea into a bowl with honey and Sichuan pepper. The tea is sweet, bitter and spicy with great aftertaste, which implies that we need to remain a placid frame of mind after having been through all tastes.

Bai Ethnic The Three-course Tea of the Bai ethnic minority became a ceremony for treating guests or friends of the people of Bai in as early as the Ming Dynasty, delivering people the profound connotation of treating life and career with an ordinary and placid mindset.

After unearthing and the wide spread publicized by tourists, viewing the process of making the “Three-Course Tea” and tasting the Bai ethnic tea culture is widely loved by the tourists. If you go to Dali, do not forget to taste this unique tea. That is another kind of enjoyment!

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Bai Ethnic Tribe Traditional Wedding

As one of China’s 55 ethnic tribes, the Bai ethnic group has its own distinctive marriage rituals and they keep the tradition of monogamy.


Wedding Banquet

Bai Ethnic
Bai Ethnic

According to its marriage rituals, a girl will give the boy a piece of Baba, a kind of rice cake, if she agrees to his proposal. Before the wedding, the groom’s family will prepare a wedding tent, and on the eve of the wedding day, they should invite those who are good at Chinese opera to perform in this tent. Neighbors and relatives will come to enjoy the performance while having fruits, wine and tea prepared by the host. After the performance, the guests should share a bowl of Tangyuan, a kind of sweet dumpling made of glutinous rice, to express their best wishes for the new couple.


Carrying Bride on the Back


Bai Ethnic Carrying the bride on the back is a typical marriage tradition in Bai ethnic minority. During the wedding ceremony, the groom has to carry his bride on his back, walking along the route in the shape of the number eight. Bai Ethnic While in some other places, the groom need not go to escort his bride to his home and instead invites his best men to do it. The best men go to the bride’s home with the music played by Suona, a folk musical instrument. When the best men arrive, the bride’s family does not immediately go out to welcome them until Suona players finish playing the joyous music for six times.


Pinching Bride


Bai Ethnic Another interesting tradition in Bai wedding is the guests can pinch the bride for good luck. The bride cannot get angry even when she feels painful.


Wedding Ceremony

After the bride enters the bridal chamber, a ceremony is held for the new couple to kowtow to the Heaven and Earth, and to their parents. The next day, the bridegroom sends the God of Happiness to the home of the bride’s parents and the bride pays her first visit after marriage to her parents. In general, the bride returns to her new home the same day. If it is far away, she stays in her parents’ home for the night. This signifies the end of the wedding ceremony.

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Spiritual Worshiper

The Miao are animists, shamanists and ancestor worshipers whose beliefs have been influenced by Chinese Taoism and Buddhism, and more recently Christianity.




Miao people believe everything in nature has spirits, which are mighty enough to control their lives. They worship the sun, moon, lightening, thunder, fire, rivers, caverns, large trees, huge stones, and animals.

Spirits can be benevolent or vicious, protecting or bringing harm to men. Every house has an altar to ancestral spirits of grandparents and other relatives who died natural deaths in old age. It is believed that at death, the soul divides into three parts, one of which returns to protect the household as an ancestral spirit. There is also concern with evil spirits and with ghosts of those who died in a bad way may cause illness and misfortune. So if a Miao dies a tragic death, his spirit is left behind to bring disaster to his family and village unless he is properly buried.

ritual ritual


Ancestor Worshiper


The Miao also worship their ancestors. They worship their ancestors so much that memorial ceremonies are very grand. Male household leaders are usually in charge of the worship of ancestor spirits and household gods. They dress up in special clothing when they preside over rites and employ chants, prayers and songs they have memorized. They are paid with food for their services. Shaman is called up to cure illnesses by bringing back lost souls. They play a key role in funeral rites and are called upon to explain misfortunes and preside over rites that protect households and villages.

ritual ritual

Elaborate rituals and sacrifices are used for protection. Shamans are responsible for identifying demons and instructing the afflicted in how to appease them. Some of their superstitious rituals were very expensive. In west Hunan and northeast Guizhou, for instance, prayers for children or for the cure of an illness were accompanied by the slaughter of two grown oxen as sacrifices. Feasts would then be held for all the relatives for three to five days.

ritual ritual




More recently some Miao also believe in Christianity. The first Christian among Miao groups started in the late 1890’s by China Inland Mission and Methodist missionaries. A significant impact was made among two dialect groups. Of the estimated 300,000 Miao believers, approximately 250,000 of these are among the A-Hmao (Big Flowery) and Gha-Mu tribes (Small Flowery). Their dialects are mutually unintelligible with other Miao dialects. A significant impact of Christianity was also among some groups located near Anshun of Guizhou province. The vast majority of Miao, however, are completely unevangelized with no knowledge even of the name “Jesus”.

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Miao Hmong Dragon Boat Festival

The Miao Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated on the Qingshui River from 24th to 27th of the fifth lunar calendar month. It is the most important celebration of the Miao people who live in the Southeast Guizhou province. The Miao Dragon Boat Festival differs from the one of Han Chinese, which celebrates on different dates, (* 5th day of the fifth lunar calendar month for Han Chinese) different traditions and origins. Miao Dragon Boat Festival celebrates its hero, Guya, as in Miao’s folk story killed the evil dragon. Each year around thirty to forty thousand Miao people celebrate this festival. Dragon Boat


Launch Time


According to Miao customs, people can send their boats down the river after the 16th of that month before the festival, provided they have finished their harvest. The earlier the boat is launched, the more diligent that family is. The Miao people consider it a shame if they don’t finish their harvest before the festival begins.


The Dragon Boat


The Miao dragon boats are exquisite. Being approx. 20 meters in length and 1 meter in width, the dragon boat is usually made by trunks tied together. It is comprised of a mother boat and two barges at both sides. The fore is fitted with a large-sized dragon head, on the horns of which are written such words as 风调雨顺”favorable weather for crop raising” and 国泰民安 means the country is prosperous and people live in safety. The buttock called “Phoenix Tail” is inserted with fragrant grass. Both the fore and the buttock are raised above water surface.
Dragon Boat Dragon Boat




Dragon Boat On this festival, dragon boats are rowed for competition. The dragon boat racing is usually held on the Qingshui River with spectacular audience. Boatmen paddle continuously to avoid the dragon boat to pause in the mid way and keep it moving to the terminal. The winner will be awarded a silk banner. After competition, the boatmen are given a bunch of grass and throw the grass into the river for the purpose of driving off evil spirits. The festival has its auspicious meaning. After the festival comes to an end, every village will slay the fattest pig in the village to reward all villagers for their support to the festival.


Other Activities


Dragon Boat Besides competition, the dragon boats are also used as transportation tool to visit their relatives in other villages. Before the dragon boat sets out, someone sings an auspicious song to the boatmen, wishing them a bon voyage. The crew rows the boat from one village to another, when they reach a village; they fire guns to announce their arrival. The villagers set off firecrackers and meet them, then prays are made to the dragon to bestow happiness on each community. After lunch, the boats stop alongside the river bank. Pigs, goats, ducks and geese are presented to the crew and the headman. The boatmen eat glutinous rice balls and meat on the boats. It is said that after eating food from a dragon boat, one will be safe from disaster and everything will go smoothly.

Horse racing and bullfights are also held on the festival, families gather by the river and chat. When night falls, young people sing their folk songs to compete with each other.

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Miao Hmong New Year

No festival is more colorful, interesting and worthwhile visiting than Miao Hmong New Year. Different from Spring Festival of Han Chinese, Miao New Year is the tenth month of lunar calendar. However, the exact date varies each year and is only known one or two months in advance.

Miao Costume Miao Costume

The Miao Hmong New Year is a traditional festival to offer sacrifices to the Miao’s ancestors and to celebrate harvest. It is usually celebrated three times from October to December on lunar calendar namely “New Year Beginning”, “Big New Year” and “New Year End”, of which the “Big New Year” is the most popular one. “Big New Year” normally last three to five days or more than 10 days in some areas with big gatherings held.


Before New Year’s Day


With the New Year coming, every family does cleaning; slays chicken and pigs, makes glutinous rice cakes, makes rice wine and purchases food for the New Year. But on the first two days of the New Year, the Miao don’t do any cleaning work at home, and they are forbidden to chop wood on the mountains. Women don’t need to cook, but men have to do that. Women are happy with sewing new clothing for their family, especially for their children.

At the New Year’s Eve, all people stay up until midnight, and then they bring dragons to their home with firecrackers lighted. Every family worship gods and offer sacrifices to ancestors, praying for an abundant harvest of all food crops and safety of people and domestic animals. They also feed liquor to their bulls to thank them for their hard work. Then members of the family gather together happily and share a rich dinner.


During New Year’s Day


From the first day of the New Year, people begin to visit relatives and friends, wishing them a happy new year. Youngsters wear rich dress and take part in all kinds of entertaining activities as reed-pipe dancing, stepping to wooden drums, bullfight, horse race, roaming around, antiphonal singing, etc. The first three days are the best time to attend the festival. Thousands of Miao people dress in gaily embroidered silk costumes and wear full arrays of silver ornaments to celebrate their New Year, singing and dancing through the streets and gathering at the square to celebrate. You will see different kinds of dances and hear different folk songs as they come from different tribes and villages. Lusheng dance, horse racing, rooster fighting, and buffalo fighting are also held. Everywhere in the whole Miao village is filled with sound of firecrackers and reed-pipes. The whole region is immersed in atmosphere of joy and happiness.

At night, young guys from other villages come and flirt with girls. Girls dress up with beautiful silver ornaments and embroidered garments to meet the boys. This is called You Fang in local custom. Some young fellows even go to other villages by walking to take part in various social activities. This is a good time for people to visit friends and young people look for marriage partners.

The Miao fully enjoy themselves during 9 days of New Year. Many people have their weddings held and house built during this time, which adds the joyful atmosphere to the Miao’s New Year.

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New-Rice-Tasting Festival

New-rice-tasting New-Rice-Tasting Festival is the grand occasion for the Miao to taste newly ripe rice and celebrate the coming harvest. This festival is also celebrated among other ethnic tribes in China.

On this day, as soon as everyone in the village gather around, the village chief walks to the rice field, cuts three leaves of rice and passes the to the shaman for sacrificial ritual. This is a belief in ancestor worship as well as a way to show appreciation to the power of the land. Each family will enjoy a nice meal of new rice with fish and meat. The villagers will hold varieties of activities, such as bullfighting, bird fighting, Lusheng dance and singing.





Girls pour wine for guests celebrating the New Rice Tasting Festival in a village of Miao ethnic group in Duyu City of southwest China’s Guizhou Province.


Villagers of the Miao ethnic group watch bullfight at the New Rick Tasting Festiva in a village in Duyu City of southwest China’s Guizhou Province..


Villagers of the Miao ethnic group used to offer sacrifice to their ancestors, and taste new rice with local Lusheng dance and folk songs at the festival.


Women of the Miao ethnic group pound glutinous rice for cooking to celebrate the festival in a village of the MIao ethnic group in Duyu City of southwest China’s Guizhou Province.

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Miao Hmong Guzang Festival, A Living Fossil

Guzang Festival, which lasts about 7 days, takes place a little later after the Miao New Year. Guzang literally means “to bury the drum”. The Miao people believe that drums made of maple trees are the burial place of their ancestors. Therefore, this grand festival, which celebrates only every 13 years, is about burying the drum and paying homage and sacrifice to their ancestors.


Purposes of Guzang Festival


The Guzang Festival is one of the grandest festivals of the Miao Hmong ethnic tribe. It has two purposes, one of which is to commemorate the ancestors of the Miao who as pioneers has been through lots of migration and the other is to celebrate the harvests of the past year.


Legend about Guzang Festival


It is believed that the Miao people are the descendants of Chiyou, leader of Jiuli tribe living on the central and lower reaches of the Yellow river 5000 years ago in China history. At that time, the responsibilities of the tribal leader are Si and Rong. Rong means defending the tribal land, whereas Si was the lord offering sacrifices and whose task was to observe celestial phenomena. From what have been discovered from the tomb of Chiyou in Henan province and by the archaeologists, the Miao’s Guzang Festival is the ritual of the tribe alliance offering sacrifices to gods and ancestors in ancient times. The festival is regarded as a Living fossil.


Activities during Guzang Festival


The rituals are complicated and include a series of ceremonies, such as the Zhaolong (invite the dragon), the Xinggu (waken the drum), and the Yinggu (welcome the drum). After the rituals, celebrations begin, and the village becomes a joyful world of singing and dancing.

Miao People 23 Miao People 24

Festivals last for three to seven days. On the first day, the elected committee in charge of the festival climbs the mountains to search for the soul of the dragon, a symbol of good luck. The shaman guides the dragon soul into a duck, which is bought specifically for this purpose. In the evening, a pig is ceremonially killed and shared among all participants during a great celebratory feast. In the past, a water buffalo would be scarified, but now pigs are killed instead. Sharing the meat symbolizes sharing in the community and the preservation of old traditions that are linked with the good fortune, prosperity and fertility of the whole village.

Miao People 25 Miao People 26

During the festival, the villagers delight in eating, singing and dancing all day and all night. It is celebrated in southeast Guizhou province with areas like Leishan, Taijiang, Jianhe as well as some places around Kaili City.

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