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What is ‘Mandala’ in Art?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Mandala Art

Mains level: Not Much

Some residents of Liverpool in the UK are marveling over a mandala art the size of one and a half football pitches in length created by artist James Brunt with materials such as leaves and rocks.

What is Mandala Art?

  • Literally meaning “circle” or “centre” in Sanskrit, a mandala art is defined by a geometric configuration that usually incorporates the circular shape in some form.
  • Mandala patterns are a centuries-old motif that are used to depict the cosmos, and have been adapted by artists the world over, each of whom have added their own interpretation and painted it as their own.
  • While it can also be created in the shape of a square, a mandala pattern is essentially interconnected.

Its origin

  • It is believed to be rooted in Buddhism, appearing in the first century BC in India.
  • In Hinduism, the mandala imagery first appeared in Rig Veda (1500 – 500 BCE).
  • Over the next couple centuries, Buddhist missionaries travelling along the Silk Road took it to other regions.
  • By the sixth century, mandalas have been recorded in China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Tibet.

The meaning of the motif

  • It is believed that by entering the mandala and moving towards its center, one is guided through the cosmic process of transforming the universe .
  • It depicts transition from one of suffering to that of joy.
  • A traditional Buddhist mandala, a circular painting drawn with coloured sand, aided in meditation, with the main objective of aiding its creator to discover their true self.
  • In Hinduism, a mandala or yantra is in the shape of a square with a circle at its center.
  • There are various elements incorporated within the mandala, each of which has its own meaning.
  • For instance, the eight spokes of the wheel (the dharmachakra) represent the eightfold path of Buddhism, the lotus flower depicts balance, and the sun represents the universe.
  • Facing up, triangles represent action and energy, and facing down, they represent creativity and knowledge.

Mandala in modern Indian art

  • Deep-rooted in ancient philosophy, the mandala has attained varied forms in the hands of modern and contemporary Indian artists.
  • While it continues to appear in thangka paintings, it has a central place in the practice of mainstream artists associated with the tantric and neo-tantric spiritual movements.
  • Choosing to transition from the more figurative depictions of the previous generations of Indian artists, in the 1960s Sohan Qadri and Prafulla Mohanty gained widespread recognition for their works.
  • Their work is imbibed in tantric symbolism, such as mandalas that are also used in the rituals of tantric initiation.
  • Geometric compositions also dominated works of artists such as Biren De, GR Santosh, Shobha Broota, and famously SH Raza, who visualised the bindu as the center of his universe and the source of energy and life.


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