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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Thangka Painting Mandala

Mandala is a Sanskrit word that means “circle”. In the Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions their sacred art often takes a mandala form. The basic form of most Hindu and Buddhist mandalas is a square with four gates containing a circle with a center point. Each gate is in the shape of a T.

Thangka Painting

These mandalas, concentric diagrams, have spiritual and ritual significance in both Buddhism and Hinduism. The term is of Hindu origin and appears in the Rig Veda as the name of the sections of the work, but is also used in other Indian religions, particularly Buddhism. In the Tibetan branch of Vajrayana Buddhism, mandalas have been developed into sand painting. They are also a key part of anuttarayoga tantra meditation practices.

In various spiritual traditions, mandalas may be employed for focusing attention of aspirants and adepts, as a spiritual teaching tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation and trance induction. According to David Fontana, its symbolic nature can help one “to access progressively deeper levels of the unconscious, ultimately assisting the meditator to experience a mystical sense of oneness with the ultimate unity from which the cosmos in all its manifold forms arises.” The psychoanalyst Carl Jung saw the mandala as “a representation of the unconscious self,” and believed his paintings of mandalas enabled him to identify emotional disorders and work towards wholeness in personality.



Thangka Painting

The Mandala shown here is connected with the Buddha Vajrasattva, who symbolises the original crystalline purity.

In the centre is a lotus blossom with eight petals, resting on a bed of jewels. In the next place are the walls of the palace with gates towards the four corners of the earth. The gates are guarded by four angry doorkeepers. Before the meditating person arrives at the gates, she must, however, pass the four outer circles: the purifying fire of wisdom, the vajra circle, the circle with the eight tombs, the lotus circle.




Thangka Painting

Here are the four circles, symbolizing the enlightenment, which the meditating person must gain, before she can enter the illuminated palace:

Fire of wisdom: the outermost circle consists of the purifying fire

Vajra circle: the diamond circle expresses strength and fearlessness

Tombs: there are eight tombs, which symbolizes the eight states of consciousness, which the person must go beyond

Lotus circle: expresses the open state of devotion, that is necessary to enter the palace




Thangka Painting

The symbol of Buddha lives in the centre, surrounded by eight Buddhas for meditation – symbolic deities: four male and four female. These figures, facing the corners of the earth form together a lotus flower.


Mandala in Tibet


In ancient Tibet, as part of a spiritual practice, monks created intricate mandalas with colored sand made of crushed semiprecious stones. The tradition continues to this day as the monks travel to different cultures around the world to create sand mandalas and educate people about the culture of Tibet.

All monks at Tibetan Buddhist monasteries are required to learn how to construct mandalas as part of their training. The learning process is two-fold, including the memorization of texts that specify the names, lengths, and positions of the primary lines that define the basic structure of mandalas, as well as the manual techniques of drawing and pouring sand. These texts, however, do not describe every line, nor every detail of each mandala, but rather serve as mnemonic guides to the complete forms of mandalas that must be learned from the repeated practice of construction under the guidance of experienced monks.

As a meditation on impermanence (a central teaching of Buddhism), after days or weeks of creating the intricate pattern of a sand mandala, the sand is brushed together and placed in a body of running water to spread the blessings of the mandala.

by Xiao Xiao @

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