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PHOTO: BY NANCY FORD

Emerson Gallery Presents the Art of Sand Mandala

By Vige Barrie
Posted October 5, 2010
Tags Art Asian Studies Buddhism Emerson Gallery Religious Studies

On Monday, Oct. 4, nine Buddhist monks from the Gaden Shartse Monastery in Southern India performed an opening consecration ceremony of sacred dance and chanting in the Emerson Gallery atrium before beginning their creation of a sand mandala of compassion. This ancient tradition is a reminder of the Buddhist concept of impermanence. The monks are part of the World Peace Tour program first begun 20 years ago. This tour, which began four months ago, will finish in 18 months.

Mandala means literally “that which extracts the essence. The process of creating one is labor-intensive, requiring incredible amounts of concentration. The monks apply sands of varying colors and coarseness on a platform with a metal tube which is fitted with a variety of tips. The application of the sand is controlled by the size of the tip and the vibrations applied to the tube with a metal instrument. An explanatory video can be viewed on YouTube.

On Wednesday, Oct. 6, at 4:30 p.m. there will be a special ritual to bless the completed mandala. As a lesson in impermanence the blessed sand is swept into a pile and small portions are offered to those present. The remaining sand is taken to a body of flowing water where, after a short ceremony, it is poured into the water to bless and purify the surrounding environment and all sentient beings living there. This ceremony will begin at the Emerson Gallery and proceed to the waters of the Root Glen.

According to Tibetan Buddhist history, the purpose, meaning and the techniques involved in the spiritual art of the sand mandala creation were taught by Buddha Sakyamuni in the 6th century B. C. in India. Mandalas are created for rituals of initiation and for meditations; it is also created to purify the environment and its inhabitants to promote harmony in the world.

In the past, sand mandalas were made with the powdered results of the grinding of precious stones turquoise, lapis lazuli, coral, powdered gold and silver, and many other cherished and priceless materials. Today white stones are ground and dyed with opaque water colors to produce the bright tones found in the sand paintings.

The three-day process and ceremonies are offered in concert with a trio of exhibitions currently on display at the gallery that examine definitions of religious art, what makes images religious and what happens when objects leave an artist’s studio or their spiritual context and become “property” of the community. The exhibitions are on view through Jan. 2 and features a range of works from different cultures and historic periods, including works from the Emerson Gallery collection and the Burke Library special collections.

Special gallery hours for the mandala creation and dissolution are Monday and Tuesday 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For information on parking and wheelchair accessibility, contact the gallery at 315-859-4396 or at the gallery’s website http:// www.hamilton.edu/gallery.

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