A mandala is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Asian cultures. It can be understood in two different ways: externally as a visual representation of the universe or internally as a guide for several practices that take place in many Asian traditions, including meditation. In Hinduism and Buddhism, the belief is that by entering the mandala and proceeding towards its center, you are guided through the cosmic process of transforming the universe from one of suffering into one of joy and happiness.
Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was born in the region now known as Nepal. Though there is no confirmed date of his birth, historians believe it to be around 560 B.C. It is understood that Gautama left his kingdom after becoming aware of human suffering, where he sought to attain enlightenment through meditation and thoughtful action. He began to preach his philosophy across parts of India, where he gained devout followers and eventually established the first sangha, Buddhist community of monks.
As these Buddhist monks travelled the Silk Road, an ancient network of trade routes that connected the East and West, they brought Buddhism to other lands. They carried mandalas with them and brought the practice of painting these spiritual compositions to other parts of Asia, appearing in regions such as Tibet, China, and Japan by the 4th century. Though rooted in Buddhism, mandalas soon became present in Hinduism and other religious practices. Painters of the spiritual craft were often pious laymen, who were commissioned by a patron. They worked seated on the floor with a painting propped in their laps or in front of their crossed legs.
There are various types of mandalas found in different cultures and used for a multitude of purposes, both artistically and spiritually. Below are three main types of mandalas and how they are used.