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   About Ladakh > Ladakh Mandalas

Ladakh Mandalas

Mandalas in Ladakh, also known as the architecture of enlightenment, is an ancient Hindu and Buddhist graphic symbol of the universe. It is a cosmic diagram that functions as a powerful aid in meditation and concentration. In Sanskrit, it means circle, polygon, community, connection. The Mandala is a symbol which acts as a support for the meditating person. The mandala is often illustrated as a palace with four gates, facing the four corners of the Earth.

The word "mandala" comes from the Sanskrit verbal root "mand" (meaning to mark off, decorate, set off) and "la" (meaning circle, essence, sacred center). The mandala's symbolic power can be traced back to the Indian temple architecture, which created sacred spaces linking the worshiper to the larger cosmos. In these temples, time and space were represented in a vocabulary of circles and squares. Similarly, a mandala helps believers visualize the universe and their place in it, often in relation to a specific deity found in the center of the image. Mandalas are used in the rituals of tantric initiation. They are constructed at the beginning of the initiation, out of grains of colored sand carefully placed on a specially prepared platform. Thus mandalas, like

Ladakh Mandalas

Vedic altars, are temporary structures built of impermanent materials. While, the mud-bricks of altars are simply abandoned after the ritual sacrifice, mandalas are deliberately destroyed, their sand swept up upon completion of the initiation and poured into a nearby stream or river.


All monks at Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh are required to learn how to construct mandalas as part of their training. The learning process is two-fold, including the memorization of texts that specify the names, lengths, and positions of the primary lines that define the basic structure of mandalas, as well as the manual techniques of drawing and pouring sand. These texts, however, do not describe every line, nor every detail of each mandala

Mandalas Ladakh

but rather serve as mnemonic guides to the complete forms of mandalas that must be learned from the repeated practice of construction under the guidance of experienced monks. It is believed that in his enlightened form, the Buddha is no longer in this world. As one of his epithets indicate, the Buddha is tathagata, or "thus-gone," and in the absence of his physical body, the mandala represents his "body of enlightenment." Thus this stunning ancient art form occupies a significant religious role in Buddhism.


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