- Seraje Monastery, Tibetan
- Born: Tibet
- Work Locations: India
- Denver, CO
- United States
About the Artist
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.
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
Quick Classroom Ideas
- Have students practice meditative coloring with the Mandala coloring page from the Denver Art Museum galleries.
- Have students create a classroom crest, or symbol to represent the class, that is constructed of 5 concentric circles. Divide the class into 5 teams. Each team will create a design/pattern that can be repeated over and over in order to fill their circle.
- Make a temporary artwork using colored rice (use food coloring to die the rice ahead of time). Find a way to ceremonially destroy the artwork, while still respecting what it once was—put it in a jar and keep it in the classroom, or have the students find a special place outside to spread the rice around. Tibetan sand mandalas were dismantled as an example of the impermanence of all things.
- The museum received special permission from the abbot of Seraje monastery to preserve this mandala, even though mandalas are typically dismantled as an important part of the ritual. Have students write a letter to the museum stating whether they think the mandala should have been preserved or dismantled, and why.