What is a Mandala? Explore the Symbols of the Universe

“Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves” (cited in Neihardt, 1961:32-33).

I am sure everyone has seen them somewhere: Beautiful patterns arranged in a circle referred to as mandalas. Framed on walls, decorating colourful yoga mats, as mandala templates in colouring books, even built as giant temples… Mandala patterns are widely used in arts, in architecture, in fashion, and even to beautify one’s skin: Surely a large share of people travelling through India or South East Asia come back with a mandala tattoo design on their body (I admit, I was very close to getting a gigantic lotus flower mandala inked on my back two years ago myself when travelling in Thailand). But mandala patterns are not only fascinating to look at, they also have an interesting background and meaning.

ceiling of building shaped in mandala pattern

buddhist spiritual mandala pattern in architecture

History and Origin of Mandala Art

As Black Elk, the Dakota elder, describes in the quote above, the mandala visually expresses the foundation of a worldview based on circles. Mandalas originated in parts of Asia and have a long history in India – especially in Buddhist and Hindu practices they play a crucial role – but the shape of the circle is used all around the world as a way to represent the enormity of the universe, as well as the circular nature of life and existence. In addition, its meaning is conveyed through the given name mandala. The root manda means essence in Sanskrit language and the suffix la means container. Thus, the word suggests a mandala is not just a circle but a container of essence.

ancient mandala pattern in red and gold

In India, mandalas have served as religious tools for more than a thousand years. Amongst others they have been used as a foundation of the design of sacred Hindu temples. You would be surprised how often you can spot a mandala hidden in the small details of Indian temples. As well as that, mandalas have been part of spiritual and religious rituals when monks drew them, for example into sand. Mandalas still play an important role for practitioners in Hinduism and Buddhism worldwide as a pathway to meditation and guide to spiritual transcendence and healing. As a matter of fact, the mandala is widely recognised as a meaningful reflection of its maker, so mandala art therapy is a tool growing popularity in psychology.

Mandala Meaning and Symbology

Within the beautiful circular mandala patterns one can find various symbols. Traditional mandalas include the presence of the Buddha’s mind and body in it, which can be in any abstract form. Examples are the shape of a wheel, a tree, a flower, or a jewel. The mandala origin is the center, which is a dot: A symbol that is free of dimensions and is interpreted as starting point: a seed, a sperm, a drop. The dot is surrounded by lines and triangular geometrical patterns, representing the different layers of the universe – the spiritual realm, the lived environment, the inner experience of man – and how these layers intertwine. The circle locking in the rest of the mandala design represents the enormity of the universe and the cyclical nature of life.

mandala designs with triangles and lotus flower

Triangles are popular symbols in mandala art as they convey a variety of meanings. Some triangles are upwards facing: They represent action and energy towards the spiritual. When triangles face downwards, they represent creativity and the pursuit of spiritual knowledge. Another popular symbol used in mandala art is the lotus flower, which symbolises enlightenment and spiritual awakening.

Nowadays mandalas come in all kinds of shapes and often the religious and spiritual meaning has become of secondary importance. Nonetheless, the mandala designs are beautiful to look at.

black and white mandala designs

Get Creative: The ABURY Mandala Bag

As mentioned earlier, mandala drawing has been proven to be an effective tool in meditation, stress reduction and self-discovery. While drawing a mandala is quite an intense process and requires precision and self-diligence, you can give it an easy start and begin with colouring in simple mandala designs. As part of the ABURY Mandala Bag competition, colour in an easy mandala template in whatever colours you love! Not only is this a beautiful way to get into your meditation practice, but you also stand the chance to win a Berber Bag and get your name under a bag that will become part of our product assortment in 2018. Just download the mandala online and send over your colourful mandala print via email. More information is available here.

ABURY Mandala Bag Template for mandala drawing

When looking at a mandala next time, remind yourself of the spiritual context of mandalas: They are seen as means to put an end to suffering, to reach enlightenment and to attain a correct view of reality. The purpose of the mandala is to demonstrate the sanctity in the universe – and its potential in yourself!

Excited to see what your mandala design will tell about yourself. Have fun!

Lara Petersen

Lara Petersen

After her studies abroad and exploring the world for many years, Lara returned to Berlin in 2015 and ever since combines her passions cultures, communication and writing by working as part of the ABURY family. Lara is the editor-in-chief and admin of the One of a Mind blogzine by ABURY.

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