A spectacular ‘Mandala’ art installation, bigger than the size of a football field, currently covers a public park in Liverpool in the United Kingdom. Unveiled on August 12, the piece of land art called The Knowsley Mandala is made of natural elements, and is expected to last a month after which it will slowly fade away.
The artist behind the creation at Halewood Park Triangle is Yorkshire-based James Brunt, who is known for using natural materials found in forests, parks, and on beaches to create elaborate artworks that he photographs to document before they wither.
The art form
Mandala patterns are motifs that are centuries old, and are used to depict the cosmos. They have been adapted by artists the world over, each of whom has added their own interpretation to these designs.
Literally meaning the “circle” or the “centre” in Sanskrit, mandala is defined by a geometric configuration that usually incorporates the circular shape in some form. While it can also be created in the shape of a square, a mandala pattern is essentially interconnected.
Mandala is rooted in Hinduism and Buddhism. Mandala imagery first appeared in the Vedas (c. 1500-500 BC), and Buddhist missionaries travelling along the Silk Road are believed to have taken it to regions outside India. By the sixth century, mandalas were recorded in China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Tibet. Separately, native American peoples are believed to have used the mandala as representation of a deity or the cosmos, and as a spiritual form.
Its meaning
It is believed that by entering the mandala and moving towards its centre, one experiences a cosmic process of transforming the universe and that of moving from emotions of suffering to the feeling of joy.
In Hindu philosophical systems, a mandala or yantra is usually in the shape of a square with a circle at its centre.
A traditional Buddhist mandala is a circular painting that is meant to help its creator discover their true self.
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 eight-fold path of Buddhism that brings liberation from the cycle of birth and death. 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 Buddhist Thangka paintings, it has a central place in the works of even mainstream artists associated with tantric and neo-tantric spiritual movements.
Choosing to transition from the more figurative depictions of the previous generations of Indian artists, Sohan Qadri and Prafulla Mohanty, in the 1960s, gained widespread recognition for their works that were imbibed with tantric symbolism such as mandalas, which are also used in rituals of tantric initiation.
While in some of his works Qadri represented the pictorial symmetry of the mandala, in others he arguably merged the concept with a symbolic representation of Kundalini, the divine energy believed to be located at the base of the spine. Playing with the symmetrical patterns, Biren De often painted light petals that merged to create circular forms in his interpretations of the mandala.
G R Santosh often brought together aspects from mandala and geometric forms to create human figures.
And the Bindu became the central theme in the works of S H Raza, who brought it global acclaim as the source of energy and life.
Mandala in therapy
As part of art therapy, participants are encouraged to create and colour mandalas. Studies have also been conducted to understand if mandalas can help reduce stress. Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung explored the psychological effects of mandalas and introduced it in psychotherapy. He saw the mandala as an expression of one’s innermost self, and asked his patients to draw and describe circular drawings. In the autobiographical book Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he stated:
“I sketched every morning in a notebook a small circular drawing, a mandala, which seemed to correspond to my inner situation at the time… Only gradually did I discover what the mandala really is…. the Self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well, is harmonious.”
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