What are Mandalas? History, Symbolism, and Uses of

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If ever you’ve studied spiritual Asian art, you’ve likely encountered a mandala. A mandala, which is Sanskrit for “circle” or “discoid object,” is a geometric design. First of all, it holds a great deal of symbolism in Hindu and Buddhist cultures. Therefore, mandalas are believed to represent different aspects of the universe and for that reason are used as instruments of meditation and symbols of prayer most notably in China, Japan, and Tibet.

Certainly, in their most basic form, mandalas are circles contained within a square. Hence, they are arranged into sections that are all organized around a single, central point. They’re typically produced on paper or cloth, drawn on a surface with threads, fashioned in bronze, or built-in stone Extraordinary as a standalone work of art, mandalas hold symbolic and meditative meaning beyond their vibrant appearance.

What is a Mandala?

A mandala is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Asian cultures. Similarly, it can be understood in two different ways but also externally as a visual representation of the universe. Or internally as a guide for several practices that take place in many Asian traditions, including meditation. In Hinduism and Buddhism, the belief is that by entering the mandala and proceeding towards its center, you are consequently and most likely possibly guided through the cosmic process of transforming the universe from one of suffering into one of joy and happiness.

A Brief History of Mandalas

Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was born in the region now known as Nepal. Currently, there is no confirmed date of his birth. Thus historians believe it to be around 560 B.C. It is also understood that Gautama left his kingdom after becoming aware of human suffering, where probably he sought to attain enlightenment through meditation and thoughtful action. As a result, he began to preach his philosophy across parts of India. For this reason, he gained devout followers and, eventually, he established the first sangha, Buddhist community of monks.

As these Buddhist monks traveled the Silk Road, an ancient network of trade routes that connected the East and West, they brought Buddhism to other lands. They carried mandalas with them. Likewise, the monks brought the practice of painting these spiritual compositions to other parts of Asia. Appearing in regions such as Tibet, China, and Japan by the 4th century. Rooted in Buddhism, mandalas soon became present in Hinduism and other religious practices. Painters of the spiritual craft were often pious laymen, who were commissioned by a patron. Generally, they worked seated on the floor with a painting propped in their laps or in front of their crossed legs.

Types of Mandalas

Mandalas are found in different cultures and thus used for a multitude of purposes, both artistically and spiritually.

Teaching Mandala

Teaching mandalas are symbolic, and each shape, line, and color represents a different aspect of a philosophical or religious system. Student creates his or her own mandala based on principles of design and construction, probably projecting a visual symbolization of everything they have learned. Teaching mandalas almost always serve as colorful, mental maps for their creators.

Healing Mandala

Furthermore, healing mandalas may be more intuitive than teaching mandalas. They are made for meditation. Healing mandalas are therefore intended to deliver wisdom, evoke feelings of calm, and channel focus and concentration.

Sand Mandala

Buddhist monks and Navajo cultures have long used sand mandalas as a traditional, religious element. These intricate designs use a variety of symbols made from colored sand that represent the impermanence of human life.

Symbolism in Mandalas

Within their intricate circular patterns, you can find common symbols throughout mandalas. Traditionally, they include the presence of Buddha’s mind in an abstract form. Most commonly represented as a wheel, tree, flower, or jewel. The center is a dot, which is a symbol considered free of dimensions. So it is interpreted as the starting point, the beginning of contemplation, and devotion to the divine.

From there, the dot is surrounded by lines and geometrical patterns that symbolize the universe, encompassed by the outer circle which represents the cyclical nature of life. Some common symbols within the mandala include:

  • Wheel with eight spokes: The circular nature of a wheel works as an artistic representation of a perfect universe. The eight spokes represent the Eightfold Path of Buddhism, a summary of practices that lead to liberation and rebirth.
  • Bell: Bells represent openness and emptying of the mind to allow the entrance of wisdom and clarity.
  • Triangle: When facing upward, triangles represent action and energy. When facing downward, they represent creativity and the pursuit of knowledge.
  • Lotus flower: A sacred symbol in Buddhism, the symmetry of a lotus depicts balance. As a lotus reaches up from underwater into the light, so too does a human reaching for spiritual awakening and enlightenment.
  • Sun: A popular basis for modern mandala patterns, suns tend to represent the universe, often carrying meanings related to life and energy.

How Mandalas Are Used

Mandalas are used for a variety of religious traditions, meditation, and modern contexts. The traditional Tibetan mandala, found in Buddhism, depicts the enlightened state of Buddha through sand art. Patterns are formed on the ground using metal and a small tube to create the exact texture and organization of the grains. Creating this can take weeks. Then, shortly after it’s complete, it is destroyed to align with the Buddhist belief that nothing is permanent.

As it relates to the modern context, mandalas are used in a variety of ways. In yoga, mandalas represent the same ancient ideas signifying a sacred space to shut away external influences. Mandalas may be positioned around the studio. Sometimes even drawn during meditation periods. Mandala art is used in healing circles, a practice that derives from Native Americans. The circles are often associated with the restoration of the body, mind, and heart.

Furthermore, mandalas have been found in dream catchers as a means to protect the individual sleeping. A popular item in Western cultures, you can easily identify the shape and patterns of a mandala within most dream catchers. Here is an example of how dreamcatchers are used in modern-day jewellery. beads/https://zarscollection.com/product/fashion-dreamcatcher-necklace-with-tassels-charms-and-colourful-mala-beads/

A spiritual symbol in Asian art. Mandalas have become popular, meditative elements in a variety of cultures, particularly in Hindu and Buddhist cultures. Mandalas serve as a representation of the universe and a guide on the path to enlightenment. The geometric design appears in yoga studios, dream catchers, healing circles, and other meditative practices. Creating and collecting mandalas is a transformative practice. The intention is to restore inner peace and wisdom within.


Finally, if you have always wanted to show your creative flair and create your own mandala, here is your chance. Located in beautiful Upwey, Melbourne, Victoria now you too can join in the fun. Dedicated courses and learning from 1-day workshops through to extensive extended tuition at Mandala Magic.


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