The Origin of the Mandala
The very first mandalas date back to the first century B.C.E. Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the “the Buddha,” was born in Nepal, India, and founded Buddhism. After the Buddha’s death, his followers spread his teachings throughout southeast Asia, reaching China, Korea, Japan, and eventually Tibet by the seventh century C.E. Buddhist monks traveled the Silk Road, an ancient network of trade routes connecting Asia and present-day Europe, carrying mandalas and spreading knowledge on how to create and paint them.
Most of the mandala painters came from families with a similar occupation. Others were Buddhist monks. All were religious-minded. In Tibetan Buddhism, painters had to undergo initiation rites before crafting mandalas. A Tibetan mandala was painted in a series of steps, including preparing the painting surface, transferring mandala designs from pre-established sketches, applying the initial layers of paint, using dyes for shading and outlining, and administering finishing touches.
Traditional mandalas are still created today. The Tibetan monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery produced a sand mandala for New York City as a gift to represent goodwill and healing after the terrorist incident of September 11, 2001. Mandalas continue to symbolize unity, wholeness, and new beginnings.