What is a Mandala?

By Willa Wick in Arts & Music, Community, Places, Events, & History

The name sounded familiar although I wasn’t in tune with it. In fact I thought maybe it was musically related (but then I realized that was a Mandolin). My first real exposure was during our monthly craft session, when the instructor advised that next month we would be coloring mandalas. After she was met with several blank stares, she went on to explain how it was done and that she would provide the papers and colored pencils.

A month went by, and then I was Christmas shopping – wow, there are mandala books all over the place. Mostly advertised as adult coloring books, they are nonetheless available for all ages in themes from larger pieced animals to very intricate (and miniature) designs.

Mandalas are complex, abstract designs, with one identifiable center point and an array of symbols, shapes, and forms radiating outward. The word comes from Sanskrit and means ‘circle’. Sanskrit is the oldest of the 22 languages of India, and the liturgical language of Hinduism and Buddhism. The mandala is possibly the most admired and discussed symbol of Buddhist religion and art. The word ‘mandala’, like ‘guru’ and ‘yoga’, has become part of the English language.

Mandalas are made of balancing visual elements dominated by squares, triangles, ovals and free-forms symbolizing unity and harmony. A circle also denotes balance, perfection and eternity, and symbolizes the notion that life is never ending. The goal of the mandala is to serve as a tool on our spiritual journey as it represents cosmic and psychic order. A circle also denotes balance, perfection and eternity, and symbolizes the notion that life is never ending. The design of the mandala is to be visually pleasing so as to relax the mind. It can be seen as a hypnotic, letting the creative hemisphere of our mind run free while our analytical mind takes a little nap.
Sounds like it could get a bit psychological and deep when all we want to do is have a little coloring fun.
As you start to color a mandala, let it absorb your full attention. Get caught up in the beauty of colors and shapes. Painting, coloring or even drawing your own mandala allows for the creative brain to come out and play. It’s not a thing to be copied – the colors you chose are from your own mind’s palette. Each mandala has its own personality, and depending on your frame of mind at the time will determine the colors – bright and bold or soft subdued pastels.
In coloring, whether a conscience decision or just grabbing a crayon to start, the tints do have an underlying symbolism: RED – strength, high energy and passion; PINK – love, intuition and the feminine side; ORANGE – creativity and self-awareness; YELLOW – wisdom, laughter and happiness; GREEN – love of nature, caring, and psychic ability; BLUE – inner peace and meditation; PURPLE – all things of a spiritual focus; BLACK – deep thinking, mystery and individuality.
Mandalas are also prevalent in the tattoo world. While tattoo artists may not intentionally be designing a mandala, much of their work is intricate in design and flows outward from a central focal point. For appreciation of works like these, and to gain an understanding of tattoos, the Wellington County Museum at Elora has currently launched an exhibit and display called “My Story, My Tattoo”. Thirty people with incredible tattoos are featured along with photographs, videos, and audio telling the story behind their elaborate body ink. One of the participants, Tanya Olsen of Guelph and owner of Royal City Nursery, has a large part of her torso elaborately decorated. The story behind the tattoo tells of her journey following breast cancer diagnosis, double mastectomy, and having the scars hidden by a sizeable inked design. Olsen hopes her story will help women afflicted with breast cancer to realize there are several choices to explore for treatment and recovery.

Another gal with well inked body parts is Bailey Allard of Glen Allan. Bailey’s tattoos tell of her journey through life, and she admits that although expensive, she was able to befriend several artists and be a model for them at conventions. This allowed a trade-off where she could get a tattoo and the artist would get full blown advertising both at the convention and everywhere Allard went.

All participants of the exhibit are hoping that degrading myths about tattoos and tattoo parlors will be dispelled, and that the public will be enlightened about this body decorating trend which has its roots dating back thousands of years.

“My Story, My Tattoo” will be displayed at the Museum until March 27th. And that, in a round-about way, is how a simple coloring book can reveal history and turn into attractive body inkings.