Mandala is a Sanskrit word that refers to various designs that gradually advance in a circular pattern. It is used in Buddhism and Hinduism as a symbol that represents the vastness and diversity of the universe.
Mandala via Pixabay
Often used as a tool for meditation, mandalas also symbolize the different levels of a person’s spiritual journey that starts at the periphery and ends at the core, with many layers in between. When the person progresses spiritually, he/she is believed to have reached the centre of the mandala, which represents eternal bliss and joy.
History of Mandalas
Around 1600 years ago, Buddhism started spreading throughout Southeast Asia. As Buddhist monks travelled to other lands via the Silk Road, they brought with them mandalas and other styles of painting. These mandalas, made with sand, portrayed Buddha's Teachings. Soon, people started using mandalas as instruments for meditation in places like Japan, Tibet, and China.
Despite their origins in Buddhism, mandalas are used in other religions as well. For instance, they are referred to as ‘Yantra’ in Hinduism, which consists of a primary deity at the center with other deities surrounding him. One can also find the use of Mandalas as designs on rose windows in Gothic cathedrals.
In ancient times, spiritual craft painters who painted the mandalas were usually supported by a patron. Most of these painters were devout laymen, who came from families where painting was a family tradition. Apart from being used in meditation, mandalas are used as an aid to therapy, or separately as art therapy, to cure various mental disorders.
The Healing Power of Mandalas
Significance of the Spherical Shape
Circular shapes are found everywhere and naturally appeal to the human psyche. The entire cosmos is made of spherical objects, from gigantic galaxies to microscopic cells to atoms and molecules. Flowers, rings inside tree trunks, fruits, snail’s shells, ripples - all resemble circles.
Mandalas found in Nature by olena2552 via Unsplash
Spherical objects also tend to draw the attention of infants over other shapes. When a child holds a pencil for the first time and attempts to draw, the shape that is made is very similar to a circle. It is believed that mandalas have neither a beginning nor an end. They symbolize creation, with the center as the source and the periphery as the universe, and the entire figure as the cyclic nature of life.
Mandala Art as a Type of Therapy
The round shape of a mandala represents the free flow of human creativity and expression. As children, we are generally fearless and eager to explore the world around us. But as we grow up, societal pressures condition us to behave in a way that is acceptable. This reflects in our adulthood, and we tend to overburden ourselves with our own expectations. If we fail to reach that level, we start blaming ourselves and become habitual to worrying. As a result, we forget our true, free-spirited self and get entangled in the complexity of our minds, leading to mental illnesses and psychosomatic disorders.
It is believed that the human mind stores impressions in the form of a mandala - circular patterns. In a therapy session, the therapist asks the client to draw a mandala. The designs that one may draw directly correspond to their deepest emotions and feelings about themselves, as each shape represents some aspect of the personality. For example, circles represent wholeness, triangles stand for ambition, whereas spirals symbolize the cycle of creation and decay. This helps the therapist understand the deep-seated emotions that the patient is experiencing.
The patient is then asked to draw a mandala. They can use various materials such as watercolours, pencils, crayons, sand, rocks, leaves, and flowers. Before they begin, therapists encourage them to set an intention for the task and meditate on it. The therapist teaches the client to draw a mandala design, focusing on every shape and colour.
Image via Unsplash
The process of drawing and colouring a mandala itself is soothing and can have a meditative effect on the painter. It not only sparks creativity but also has multiple health benefits. It helps cope with anxiety, depression, PTSD, among others. It relieves stress, changes negative thought patterns, boosts immunity, and also relaxes the nervous system.
Mandala art is a simple yet effective way to release pent-up emotions. Its healing power helps us reconnect with our inner child that gets lost in the chaotic world and regain our mental balance.
Pratha Content Writer