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The “Yamataka Mandala,” made in 1991 in Tibet by the Monks of the Gyuto Tantric University, with its complex symbols and combination of primary colors expressing the principles of wisdom and compassion, played an important part in Buddhist culture. The Yamataka Mandala piece is mostly made in a circular pattern with repetition of shapes and vibrant colors. The Yamataka Mandala is a vivid piece of work that emphasizes the Tantric Buddhist philosophy.
The Yamataka Mandala is a ginormous sand piece with the dimension of 96 x 96 in. The process started with monks making “an outline of a geometric design on a wooden platform from memory. Then, using metal funnels and various tools, they poured, sprinkled, and arranged millions of grains of colored sand in a complex design” (artsmia.org.) The monks use a tool called a chak-pur, which is a metal rod with a narrow point at the end to pour the sand out, Along the side of the rod is a ribbed surface to cause vibrations that let the sand flow out like a liquid. The sand then is place along the design till it fills up the line.
After the monks’ work was finished, the Minneapolis Institute of Art worked for an additional four weeks to preserve the Mandala. One of the instructors in MIA said, “They surrounded the Mandala with a high, makeshift tent. Then, they sprayed resin through a hole at the top of the tent to harden the sand and make it stick together”. After that, it was ready to be hung, the monks put an incredible amount of work and time in this piece of art and used vast quantities of sand to create such detail.
The Yamataka Mandala is filled with multiple symbols. The circular outermost ring represents the earthly world and shows eight burial grounds with images of suffering and decaying skeletons, floating limbs, scavenging animals, trees, mountains, and burial mounds called Stupas. Inside the outermost ring is another circle with a rainbow pattern of bright primary colors. This illustrates the five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Then there is a ring of vajras that is called Indra’s thunderbolt, and finally a band of lotus petals, “signifying spiritual purity and representing various deities” (Artmia.org).
Next, going toward the center, we encounter the four square walls. The employee in the Minneapolis Institute of Art said, “it’s called the Yamantaka’s palace.” The “palace” contains four compass point gates filled with symbols including masked guardians, cloud-like umbrellas to represent royalty, and jeweled trees for good fortunes, wheels, and deer for law. Yamantaka’s palace “is the realm of perfect enlightenment” (Artmia.org). These symbols deal with human nature. Last, the blue square in the center represents Yamantaka, the conqueror of death.
All mandalas are a representation of an awakened mind of a Buddha. In fact, the Minneapolis Institute of Art description said, “Tibetan Buddhists believe there is a seed of enlightenment in each person’s mind by contemplating a mandala”. The Mandala was made to honor the 1.2 million Tibetans who lost their lives to political and religious persecutions.
I never forgot the first time I saw this piece of work. I thought it was breathtaking to see such an enormous piece that was entirely made by hand. I was so amazed by the craftsmanship put into the patterns with the strong colors and how they collaborated with different shapes to show a bond between reality and the spiritual world.
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