Formed of a traditional prescribed iconography that includes geometric shapes and a multitude of ancient spiritual symbols, the sand-painted mandala is used as a tool for re-consecrating the earth and its inhabitants.
Navajo sand painting, c. 1940. In the Denver Art Museum, Colorado. 115 x 111 cm. Courtesy of the Denver Art Museum, Colorado. Encyclopædia Britannica. Standard Edition. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008.
Vishnu with his 10 avatars (incarnations): Fish, Tortoise, Boar, Man-Lion, Dwarf, Rāma with the Ax, King Rāma, Krishna, Buddha, and Kalkin. Painting from Jaipur, India, 19th century; in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Encyclopædia Britannica. Standard Edition . Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008.
SAND PAINTING also called dry painting type of art that exists in highly developed forms among the Navajo and Pueblo Indians of the American Southwest and in simpler forms among several Plains and California Indian tribes. Although sand painting is an art form, it is valued among the Indians primarily for religious rather than aesthetic reasons. Its main function is in connection with healing ceremonies.
Sand paintings are stylized, symbolic pictures prepared by trickling small quantities of crushed, coloured sandstone, charcoal, pollen, or other dry materials in white, blue, yellow, black, and red hues on a background of clean, smoothed sand. About 600 different pictures are known, consisting of various representations of deities, animals, lightning, rainbows, plants, and other symbols described in the chants that accompany various rites. In healing, the choice of the particular painting is left to the curer. Upon completion of the picture, the patient sits on the centre of the painting, and sand from the painting is applied to parts of his body. When the ritual is completed, the painting is destroyed.
For years the Indians would not allow permanent, exact copies of sand paintings to be made. When the designs were copied in rugs, an error was deliberately made so that the original design would still be powerful. Today many of the paintings have been copied both to preserve the art and for the record.
Still looking for a reference to Tibetan, or even Asian, sand painting in the ol' EB.
Sanskrit Maṇḍala (“circle”), in Hindu and Buddhist Tantrism, a symbolic diagram used in the performance of sacred rites and as an instrument of meditation. The mandala is basically a representation of the universe, a consecrated area that serves as a receptacle for the gods and as a collection point of universal forces. Man (the microcosm), by mentally “entering” the mandala and “proceeding” toward its centre, is by analogy guided through the cosmic processes of disintegration and reintegration.
In China, Japan, and Tibet mandalas are basically of two types, representing different aspects of the universe: the garbha-dhātu (Sanskrit: “womb world”; Japanese: taizō-kai), in which the movement is from the one to the many; and the vajra-dhātu (Sanskrit: “diamond [or thunderbolt] world”; Japanese kongō-kai), from the many into one. Mandalas may be painted on paper or cloth, drawn on a carefully prepared ground with white and coloured threads or with rice powders (as for Buddhist Tantric ceremonies of initiation), fashioned in bronze, or built in stone, as at Borobuḍur, in central Java. There the circumambulation of the stupa (a commemorative monument) is tantamount to the ritual approach to the centre.
The mandala of a Tibetan tanka (cloth scroll painting) characteristically consists of an outer enclosure around one or more concentric circles, which in turn surround a square transversed by lines from the centre to the four corners. In the centre and the middle of each triangle are five circles containing symbols or images of divinities, most commonly the five “self-born” buddhas. Of the borders surrounding the mandala, the first is a ring of fire, which both bars entry to the uninitiated and symbolizes the burning of ignorance; next comes a girdle of diamonds, which stands for illumination; then a circle of eight graveyards, symbolizing the eight aspects of individuating cognition; next a girdle of lotus leaves, signifying spiritual rebirth; and, finally, at the centre, the mandala itself, where the images are set.
Similar ritual drawings have been found in cultures other than Hindu and Buddhist—for example, in the sand paintings of the North American Indians. The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung published studies of mandala-like drawings executed by his patients. In his view, the spontaneous production of a mandala is a step in the individuation process—a central concept in Jung's psychological theory—and represents an attempt by the conscious self to integrate hitherto unconscious material.