Chenrezig sand mandala created at the House of Commons of the United Kingdom on the occasion of the Dalai Lama’s visit in May 2008. The original uploader was Colonel Warden at English Wikipedia., CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The name Mandala comes from the Sanskrit word which loosely translates to ‘circle.’ Originally these unique artworks were created by Buddhist monks from Tibet, India, Nepal, China, Japan, Bhutan, and Indonesia from as early as the 4th century. Intricate patterns are created using coloured sand using a symmetrical geometric base. These creations depict the universe in its ideal form and the creation of a mandala signifies the transformation of a world of suffering into one of joy. The two most common base shapes are circles and squares.

Before a monk may create a mandala, he will undergo years of training to learn the intricacies of its creation, meaning and purpose. The construction of a ceremonial mandala begins with a ceremony to consecrate the site through chants, music and meditation. Then over a period of days the monks pour grains of coloured sand from traditional metal funnels, purifying and healing the space and its inhabitants in the process. After the completion of the mandala the monks dismantle it to symbolise the impermanence of existence and disperse the sand to share its blessings.

Circle based symbols with radial repeats are not just found in Eastern religions, but in many different cultures. The use of geometric shapes in sacred art is common across many religions and spiritualties. In Christianity it is common to see circular motifs in sacred art such as the type used in stained glass windows, in iconography in the ornate halos found in many icons of saints. A 12th century German Benedictine Abbess, Hildegard von Bingen, created many mandalas to express her visions. In Celtic tradition the Celtic cross and much of the symmetrical knot work would be considered a form of mandala. In many belief systems the circle is the depiction of the cycle of life, or in some cases the depiction of the divine realm and human realm, mostly through the drawing of ever decreasing circles within each other.

Carl Jung is primarily responsible for the western art form of circular form that is commonly known as mandalas today. He was familiar with the eastern tradition and noticed through his own artwork the spontaneous depiction of circles when he was doodling.

“I sketched every morning in a notebook a small circular drawing… 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.” — Carl Jung, 1963, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Today mandalas can be found in many places, with many books written about them and their symbology, drawing from both Eastern traditions and Western philosophy. Books on doodling, colouring in books, books on Eastern spirituality, art therapy books and many, many more.

In their simplest form a mandala can be made using a blank piece of paper and drawing 45° radial lines with dots regularly placed along the lines. Doodles and fillers are then placed repeatedly around the centre of the circle of lines in concentric circles. These could be any shapes that take the fancy of the creator: circles; dots; petals; leaves; squiggles, lines, zigzags, or chevrons for example.

Colouring mandalas

Colouring in mandalas is a good place to start if the person is unsure of the activity. When colouring mandalas take the following into account:

  • Free colouring in sites can be found on the internet with little searching. Double check what the copyright status is before copying.
  • Use reasonable quality tools as a poor-quality tool is jarring and the process should be smooth and mediative.
  • Allow the participant to choose their colours based on how they are feeling at the time. Even the most discordant colours look good together when placed in a pattern.
  • As a challenge get the participant to choose only 3 or 4 colours and use only them during the process.

Drawing Mandalas

When drawing mandalas take the following into account:

  • Use good quality paper and tools. Sketching paper can be purchased easily from office supplies and newsagents. Specialist tools and papers are not needed.
  • If a perfect circle is desired, when anything can be used as a template: jar lids; glasses; bottles.
  • If the participant is not comfortable with using a freely drawn template, polar graph paper can be downloaded from
  • The mandala can be sketched in pencil first and then traced using a marker if this is desired.

Painting Mandalas on Rocks

When painting mandalas on rocks take the following into account:

  • The rocks must be smooth, and the feel of the rock should be a good one.
  • If using acrylic paints the colour may stain clothes, however it will be long lasting on the rock.
  • Varnish the finished product if it will be subjected to the elements.
  • Small brushes, sticks, toothpicks and pretty much any other tool can be used to create the design.
  • Smaller rocks will be easier for some residents to manage.
  • There is no wrong way to do this, it is about the creator and the processes that they use to express their place at that that time.
  • Left over acrylic paint can be covered with glad wrap to be used another day.