Monks make Mandala with Marble Dust

According to legend, vampires are very obsessive compulsive – the myths say that if salt or sand is spilled in front of them, they will have to count each grain before continuing on their blood-sucking quest to turn you into their next meal. Although this opening is, admittedly, a shameless nod to Halloween, Dracula would have had a hard time pursuing anyone in Dana auditorium this week: From the morning of Monday the 28th to the afternoon of Halloween, Buddhist monks ritualistically and artfully constructed a sand mandala in the middle of the lobby. I was lucky enough to visit a couple times, seeing it in progress and finished.

It was a very intimate set-up. Upon walking in, you immediately see the mandala on a square table surrounded by rope, lights, and a sign that advised against sneezing. To the right were a few tables with items for purchase to raise money for the place the monks come from, the Sera Je School and Monastery in India, and on the left was a table set up where you could try your hand at sand painting with a chakpur, the funnel that holds the sand. When a metal rod is run along the chakpur’s surface, the vibrations cause the sand to flow out easily.

I would have sand everywhere.

The monks first draw the geometric design onto the tabletop, then painstakingly follow the pencil lines with colored sand. The sand is usually ground white marble colored with opaque inks. The construction process starts with an opening ceremony to prepare the space for the mandala, then the lines are drawn. The sand is poured into shapes and figures that symbolize teachings represented by what the particular mandala embodies. Some details are so small and intricate, they look like needlework. I overheard someone saying, “It looks like embroidery!” After the mandala is completed, after days of work by multiple artists, there is a closing ceremony, then the artwork is dismantled.

Yes, dismantled.

It is swept up in an orderly ritual, sometimes giving half away to those who attend the closing ceremony, and usually dumped into a nearby body of water. The water takes the sand, which now holds blessings bestowed through the monks’ chants and recitations, and carries it to all the people of the earth.

On Thursday, Roy and I took the Drawing II class to see the mandala before it was swept up. Unfortunately, we had to return to the studio before the closing ceremony or dismantling began. Did anyone attend? Please tell us about it in the comments!

For those of you who were not able to attend, below is a slideshow of photos I took. In addition click here for a really amazing time lapse video of another mandala being constructed in Asheville, NC in 2012 – it’s mesmerizing.

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To learn more about the monks who visited us, please visit The Sera Je School website.

Others have graciously provided their own photos on the Facebook event – take a look!

I learned more about sand mandalas for this article from The Sera Je School website and

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