It was our incredible good fortune to discover that a local art museum was hosting an exhibit entitled "The Mystical Arts of Tibet" during our course on "Sacred Circles." Even more amazingly, Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery were at the museum during the first week of our course, and we were able to quickly arrange a field trip to watch them create a sand mandala. I was given permission to photograph the monks as they worked on their sacred circle.
Despite all of my research for this unit--that included viewing photographs of Tibetan mandalas--I had no idea just how breathtakingly beautiful and richly colorful this process would be.
The monks, dressed in burgundy robes trimmed in purple, worked silently. The only sound was the scraping of a metal rod against the chak-pur--a traditional metal funnel which holds the colored sand. The vibration causes the sand to flow smoothly onto a platform on which the design had been outlined.
Resting their arms on small, rectangular cushions, the monks moved around the circle to work on specific areas of the growing mandala. Solid areas were blocked in, first, and then intricate designs were drawn into the sand with one of the metal tools.
After the ornate lines had been sketched in the sand, the chak-pur was used to apply contrasting colors of sand on top of the solid layers. The mandala expanded outward, becoming more beautiful the longer the monks worked.
Please click here to see photographs from "The Mystical Arts of Tibet" exhibit, and for a couple of excellent links related to this exhibit.