On February 19 of this year, a group of monks entered the Arthur Ross Gallery at Asia Society Museum in New York amid clinking bells, clashing cymbals, and sacred chants. Their mission? To create a dul-tson-kyil-khor, or mandala of colored powders (commonly referred to in English as a sand mandala), over the course of five days.
Constructing one of these intricate masterpieces begins with tracing the outlines of a cosmic chart. Then follows the "drawing" process, which utilizes metal funnels known as chak-pur. Colored sand is scooped into these funnels and, using scrapers, monks add the sand to the design by means of a back-and-forth scraping motion over the ridges of the funnels. The video above captures the intricacies of this elaborate, painstaking process over the entire five days.
Asia Society's mandala was created with the support of Trace Foundation and was presented in conjunction with the museum's latest exhibition, Golden Visions of Densatil: A Tibetan Buddhist Monastery.
This particular piece is a Shitro mandala — "the mandala of the One Hundred Peaceful and Wrathful Deities." It features 42 peaceful and 58 wrathful deities, whom Tibetan Buddhist adherents are said to visualize as emanations of their own "Buddha-nature." Visualization practice helps devotees master feelings of awe and dread when they are confronted by these same deities on the journey between life and death.
The monks who created the Shitro mandala — Khenpo Choephel, Dorlob Dr. Hun Lye, Lama Konchok Norbu, Lama Konchok Sonam and Khenpo Tenzin Nyima — belong to the Drigung (Drikung) Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, founded in 1179 by Jigten Gonpo (also known as Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön, 1143–1217).
Watch the video below for a time-lapse overview of the Shitro mandala's coming into being from February 19 to February 23.