The Goal in the Mandala

Lesson Plan


After viewing images and reading information about the Hayagriva Sand Mandala, students will brainstorm what their personal goals are, as well as obstacles that might challenge the attainment of those goals. Students will design ways to represent those goals and challenges symbolically, creating a permanent work of art on paper.

Intended Age Group

Secondary (grades 6-12)

Length of Lesson

Two 50 minute lessons

Standards Area

Visual Arts


Students will be able to:

  • describe and analyze what they see in the Hayagriva Sand Mandala;
  • identify and discuss symbolic and actual representations of an idea; and
  • create a personalized mandala on paper that represents the path to attainment of their individual goals.


Day 1

  1. Show students an image of the Hayagriva Sand Mandala and discuss what can be seen. What colors, shapes, and basic design can be identified? Share the information from the About the Art sheet with students. Go over the “Details" tab. Point out the symbols and discuss their meanings.
  2. Explain to students that this work of art is a type of prayer for the Buddhist monks who created it. Explain that the mandala is a symbolic mansion or palace for a deity who resides in the center as the seed of enlightenment. The areas surrounding the center represent the surrounding palace grounds. Contemplation of each of the surrounding areas leads to clearing the mind and finding a path to enlightenment. Explain that the deity at the center of this mandala is represented by a symbol. This deity is responsible for clearing away certain obstacles that would keep one from reaching the goal of true enlightenment.
  3. Give students sketch paper or note taking paper and have them brainstorm what their personal goals are and think about what obstacles might keep them from reaching these goals. How could they represent this goal symbolically? Have students sketch symbols and ideas that represent not only their goal, but the obstacles that hinder its attainment.
  4. If time allows, show students the video of The Healing Mandala found on the Creativity Resource webpage for the Hayagriva Sand Mandala. Point out the process of creation and ultimate deconstruction of the temporary work of art. Discuss the reasons why a work of art that takes such dedication and time to create is ultimately erased. You might wish to note that the Denver Art Museum received special permission to keep the Hayagriva Sand Mandala on permanent display.

Day 2

  1. Students will use their brainstorming work and sketches to create their own permanent mandala on paper in the style of the Hayagriva Sand Mandala. If possible, allow students to view the creation process of other mandalas available in the links found in the “Resources” section of the object page.
  2. Students will draw their plan for their personal mandala lightly in pencil, then go back and add color to the design. Students should work in the style of the Hayagriva Sand Mandala by starting in the center and then working their way out into the concentric design.
  3. Optional: Students might also wish to write an artist’s statement explaining the personal meaning of their mandala.

A Mandala coloring page is also available as an extension or addition to this lesson.


  • Note taking and/or sketching paper for each student
  • Pencils with erasers for each student
  • Compasses or templates for making circles
  • Rulers
  • Paper for mandalas, anything from nine inch up to twelve inch squares is a good size
  • Variety of art media to add color: colored pencils, markers, pastels, or other
  • Internet access to show short video from the “Resources” section on the Creativity Resource webpage for the Hayagriva Sand Mandala, and to provide access to informative links such as: Exploring the Mandala and Mandala: Buddhist Tantric Diagrams, among others
  • Optional: Paper and writing implements or access to word processor to write an artist’s statement about their mandala
  • Color copies of the image for students to share, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
  • Copies of About the Art sheet on the Hayagriva Sand Mandala (found to the right of the lesson plan) or student access to this part of Creativity Resource online
  • Example of Mandala coloring page from the Denver Art Museum


CO Standards

  • Visual Arts

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Hayagriva Sand Mandala

Hayagriva Mandala



Seraje Monastery

Who Made It?

In September of 1996, three monks from the Seraje monastery in southern India—Losang Lungrig, Sand Mandala Master; Sonam Woser, Sand Mandala Artist; and Geshe Thubten Sonam—traveled to the Denver Art Museum to create this sand mandala. The Seraje monastery is primarily a center for education and religious training, and also operates a farm, dairy, printing press and crafts division. Monks with specialized talent are selected to receive further training in chanting, ritual dance, painting, and other activities. Monks who create sand mandalas must have advanced artistic skills, dexterity, and spiritual aptitude. They need to be able to visualize the design, with all of its many details, before construction of the mandala begins.

Monks start by drawing a simplified diagram and then begin applying the sand, starting at the center of the diagram and working out toward the edge. The sand is applied using a metal instrument to scrape grains out of a narrow metal funnel. A wooden scraper is used to make tiny adjustments and corrections. Traditionally, a mandala is dismantled after it has been completed, to serve as a reminder of the impermanence of all things. The mandala at the DAM has been preserved with special permission from the abbot of Seraje Monastery.

What Inspired It?

In Tibetan Buddhism, the mandala is a very powerful symbol. The process of making the mandala is a form of meditation and act of faith in itself. The slow, meticulous work that is required to create a mandala reinforces the Buddhist belief of emptying one’s mind and being in the present. A sand mandala becomes a visual symbol that is beautiful in its conception, composition, color, surface texture, imagery, and intricate details.

Mandalas depict the “homes” of certain deities, including their palaces and surrounding grounds. This particular mandala is meant to be inhabited by Hayagriva, the patron deity of the Seraje monastery. Hayagriva destroys passion and ignorance, the two obstacles on a human’s path to enlightenment. He has a red body, three faces, and a horse’s head protruding from the top of his center head. He is represented here by a written character that sits in the center triangle. This character is a Sanskrit syllable, referred to as a “seed syllable,” for it is said to be the “seed” of the deity.



The mandala was made using various colors of marble sand, arranged to create an intricate and symbolic design. The monks used sand from 29 small bowls, each with a different color. These colors were also mixed in some areas. In areas where a lot of sand has been applied the sand forms small peaks.


The patron deity of Seraje is represented here by a written character called a “seed syllable.” The seed syllable sits on a lotus flower within the triangle at the center of the mandala.


Inside the innermost ring is a series of tiny skulls. These serve as reminders that life is transitory.

Conch shell
Conch shell

Within the border of the square there are four conch shells, one on each side. The conch shell symbolizes the voice of Buddha explaining the doctrine. Conch shells can be blown like a horn and are used to call people to worship.


The outer ring with the black background probably represents our world. In this area, there are skeletons suggesting burial grounds. Such scenes symbolize the impermanence of human existence

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.