Mandala Art: as a hobby and a therapy

Hi Everyone!

April is already here! Unfortunately, Ontario hasn’t had the best start of the month. Starting 3rd April, Ontario has gone into a provincewide lockdown in order to fight the current spike in COVID-19 cases. As I’m writing this blog, I’m hearing that the number of COVID cases reported on Monday (April, 5th) has reached 2,938! How insane is that!! If I’m being completely honest, I do not have high hopes from this lockdown as most of the businesses and establishments are running as per usual! Personally, I’m a bit disappointed by this lockdown. I had plans to meet with a very good friend of mine over the long weekend as we’d not seen each other since forever! But she had to cancel her travel plans because of the lockdown. 😦 Go figure! On the plus side, because my previous plans got cancelled, I had some free time to indulge myself in one of my newer artistic interests-Mandala art, which also gave me the idea for today’s blog.

What is a Mandala?

To put it simply, a mandala is Sanskrit for ‘circle’ or ‘discoid object’. It is a geometric design deeply connected to spiritual Asian art and holds a great importance in Hindu and Buddhist cultures. However, it is also found in Christianity and Judaism. Even Islamic art often exhibit dense geometric patterns resembling a mandala. In their most fundamental form, a mandala contains circles within a square where each section is organized around a single, central point.

Symbolism and History

A mandala is a symbol that represents the universe that is beyond one’s consciousness. They are often used as instruments of meditation and prayer, especially in China, Japan and Tibet. According to some Asian traditions, people believe that by entering the mandala and proceeding towards its center, one is guided through the cosmic process of transforming a universe full of suffering into a joyful one. Some cultures believe that Mandalas are ubiquitous in nature-from the structure of cells to the earth and the universe. A closer look at a mandala will show you a center with outward radiating patterns, which is believed to symbolize one’s innermost potential and self-expression.

Mandalas are believed to be a category of Buddhist art. Siddhartha Gautama, also known as “the Buddha” was born in what we know today as Nepal. While we do not know his birth date for sure, historians believe it to be around 560 B.C.E. According to historians, Gautama left his kingdom after becoming aware of human suffering and worked to attain enlightenment through meditation. During this quest, he gained devout followers which later became the first “Sangha”, a Buddhist community of monks.

These monks used to carry mandalas with them. During their journey, they worked on making the mandalas while seated on the floor with a paining propped in their laps or in front of them. The first traces of Mandala art were produced in India during the first century B.C.E. With their extensive travelling through a popular, ancient trade route- the Silk Road, the monks brought Buddhism to other lands such as Tibet, China, Japan and Korea. Literary and archeological evidence indicate that Buddhism arrived in China by the first century C.E. and then spread throughout southeast Asia by the time seventh and eighth centuries C.E. came around.

A Tibetan monk constructing a sand mandala

Types of Mandala

There are a wide variety of mandalas in practice and each one of the style has its own meaning and symbolism. This blog will never end if I went into details about each of the types so I’ll just explain some of the more popular ones briefly haha!

Elephant Mandala:

Here the elephant symbolizes great strength and power, a resolute nature that refuses to yield to its conscience. In Buddhism, a grey elephant is a sign of an untrained mind that is likely to get distracted. A white elephant on the other hand represents a state of true enlightenment achieved by practicing mindful meditation. In Hinduism, the elephant head represents the deity Ganesha, which is regarded as a symbol of good fortune, material growth and luck.

Flower Mandala

This type of mandala design often incorporates the beautiful lotus flower as it has deep-rooted significance in various Asian cultures. For example, in Buddhism, the lotus signifies leaving the material world behind and forming a spiritual union with the universe. In Hinduism, the flower represents virtues of the human soul. It is also often associated with deities of creativity and wealth like Lakshmi and Sarasvati.

Typical flower mandalas as shown in the figures below are also associated with good health and mindful lifestyle. It doesn’t have any specific religious ties which makes them kind of perfect for all artistic uses like as tapestries, curtains, clothes or other home décor items.

Circle Mandala

These are by far the most common and in my opinion the prettiest looking mandala designs haha! In most cultures, a circle symbolizes unity, wholeness. In some, it also represents motherhood and the act of nurturing. They are often called Bull’s eye mandalas as the circles within circles are believed to boost concentration and enhance your focus.

These are my personal favourite because they serve my purpose of increasing my focus. Plus, I am rather biased towards them because of the countless colour combinations, shapes, patterns and mediums they can be created in! In recent times, circle mandala designs have grown extremely popular in jewelry and other bohemian home décor items.

Geometric Mandala

Geometric mandalas are believed to be associated with the mechanisms of nature, inner and external structures of the human body. The philosophy behind this type of mandala design is that geometry can take shape of anything from a tiny viruses to an attractive landscape.

Most commonly used patterns in such design are Egyptian pyramids, various polygons, triangles infused with other shape etc. They also have meditative benefits which help one become more grounded. Though I do not have much experience practicing this design, I would suggest that to make a geometric mandala, it’s best to stick to simpler patterns in the beginning.

Mandala Art as a Therapy

Aside from being a historically rich art style, mandala art is also considered a form of therapy, pioneered by a Swiss psychologist Carl Jung as a result of his longtime appreciation of Indian philosophy and traditions. He studied the sacred meaning and healing potential of mandalas extensively. An interesting aspect of the mandala art therapy is the fact that each mandala design is like a snapshot of the emotional state of its creator. Therapists urge their clients to create a mandala that represents their feelings at a particular point in time. Some also encourage their clients to create a “mandala journal” to observe a visual representation of their emotions over time. This approach has been especially successful with children and young adults. Personally, I use the mandala art as means to express/deal with my rather negative emotions, such as anxiety, fear and sometimes anger.

Experts believe that when you create, colour or even look at a mandala, you are silently programming your mind to take on the essence of completion. Therapists often suggest their clients to meditating upon the center of the Mandala because they believe it helps you become grounded.

If I talk about my own experience, when I create a mandala design, it helps me clear my mind as I focus on the design that I’m about to draw. Doing so kind of distracts me from whatever uneasiness I’m feeling that day. Even if I get distracted and start thinking about other things that I need to do, (which in turn makes me more anxious) I simply try to refocus on the mandala and the intricate, repetitive patterns. It often happens that while creating the mandala I completely lose track of time and when I finish, I feel less stressed and more in control of my emotions than ever.

Now that I’ve unloaded so much information about mandala art on you guys, I feel it’s only fair that I explain the process in short lol!

Step-by-Step Tutorial for Beginners

Modern mandalas come in a variety of shapes, from circles to stars, hearts, flowers and animals. And honestly, I love the diversity. For me, making mandalas is a fun activity as well as an outlet for to express my feelings. It helps me relax whenever I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed. And it’s super easy to draw as well! 😀 Before we start, you’ll need a piece of paper, a pencil, a black marker or a pen, an eraser (just in case lol), a standard ruler and a rounder/compass. It’s fine if you do not own a rounder, you can also use different sized cups, bowls, plates, or other household items.

Step 1: Start with drawing the largest sized circle you’re comfortable with. I like to leave off around 1 cm of space from each side of the paper in case I want to frame my art later. This circle will mark the outermost boundary of your mandala.

Step 2: Now continue making the circles with decreasing radius each time, from the same center point as the first circle. Do this until you’re about an inch or two away from the center point. Here you can adjust the space you’re leaving between two circles however you please. For simpler designs, concentric circles about an inch apart will do just fine. If you want to make it more complex, you can fluctuate the space between two circles from half a centimeter to an inch.

Step 3: Now draw a horizontal and a vertical line intersecting each other at the center of the paper dividing each circle into four equal quadrants. You can divide it further into 8ths and 16ths if you prefer. These lines are to guide you as you add your patterns to the mandala.

Step 4: With this we have the basic template for all your mandalas ready. Now it’s time to fill in different patterns. Just remember, whatever pattern you decide to include in your design, you must repeat the pattern all the way around the ring/circle. The lines from the previous step will help you keep the pattern uniform in its shape and size. Here is an example for some of the most commonly used patterns in the modern mandala art.

Step 5: Once you’ve filled all the rings with patterns you like, use a ball-pen/marker to outline the final mandala design. Now let it dry completely and erase your guidelines from previous steps. After doing this, you should have a clear, inked mandala design. You can stop here if you prefer. Personally, I like my mandalas monochromatic so most times, with this step I’ll stop. But if you like yours colourful then move onto the next step.

Step 6: You can use pencil colours, markers, water colours etc. to fill out the design. In the authentic mandala art, usually there is a predominant colour and an accent colour for the majority of the design and a few splashes other colours are used throughout the mandala to elevate the look. But don’t be afraid to experiment with different colours that you like. That’s the beauty of mandala art that it can be what you want it to be!

Here’s a wonderful website I found that has quite a lot of free mandala colouring pages which you might enjoy! And lastly, I’d like to leave you guys with links to few of my favourite mandala artists. They are all very talented and always inspire me to draw better.

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