Tibetan Buddhist Monks to Construct Sand Mandala Painting


Tibetan Buddhist monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery will construct a mandala sand painting at the art galleries of Allegheny College as part of the college’s Year of Mindfulness. The lamas will construct the mandala from Wednesday, March 1, through Friday, March 3, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily, and on Saturday, March 4, 10 a.m.–12:30 p.m. The public is invited to observe the lamas while they create the mandala; admission to the exhibition is free.

From all the artistic traditions of Tantric Buddhism, that of painting with colored sand ranks as one of the most unique and exquisite. Millions of grains of sand are painstakingly laid into place on a platform over a period of days or weeks to form the image of a mandala, a symbolic representation of the universe.

Mandalas can be created in various media, but the most spectacular and enduringly popular are those made from colored sand. To date the monks have created mandala sand paintings in more than 100 museums, art centers, colleges and universities in the United States and Europe.

The mandala sand painting will begin with a public opening ceremony at the galleries on Tuesday, Feb. 28, at 12:15 p.m., during which the lamas will consecrate the site and call forth the forces of goodness through chanting, music and mantra recitation. The lamas begin the exhibit by drawing an outline of the mandala on the wooden platform. On the following days, they lay the colored sands. Each monk holds a traditional metal funnel called a chak-pur while running a metal rod on its grated surface. The vibration causes the sands to flow like liquid onto the platform.

The finished mandala will be on display Saturday, March 4 from 12:30 p.m. until the start of a closing ceremony at 1:30 p.m., also open to the public.

Traditionally, most sand mandalas are destroyed shortly after their completion — 
a metaphor for the impermanence of life. During the closing ceremony, the lamas will sweep up the sands and place them in an urn. Half of the sand will be distributed to the audience. The remaining sand will be carried to, and deposited in, a nearby body of water.

Groups and classes planning to attend the opening or closing ceremonies or to observe the construction of the mandala should contact Allegheny College Chaplain Jane Ellen Nickell in advance at (814) 332-2800 or jnickell@allegheny.edu.

The visit by the lamas is a highlight of the Year of Mindfulness, a series of events and a challenge to the campus community to live this year with mindfulness and intention. For more information, visit allegheny.edu/yearofmindfulness.