February 10–May 7, 2017
Sand Mandala Painting
Ritual in Action: Making a Mandala Sand Painting
This gallery contains a completed mandala of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Tibetan monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery constructed the mandala with colored sand over the course of five days (February 10–14, 2017). It will remain in place until May 7, 2017, when the monks will return to ritually destroy it. You are invited to attend this beautiful ceremony, which symbolizes the transience of life central to Buddhist philosophy. Scroll down this page to see the details for the closing ceremony.
Mandalas are circular designs that are intended to represent the universe or a cosmic order. The making of temporary sand mandalas is an expression of devotion unique to Tibetan Buddhism. This mandala is a diagram of Avalokiteshvara’s celestial palace. As the monks filled in the mandala, they translated their internal meditations on the deity into this physical work of art. The ritual and resulting mandala invoke the limitless understanding of Avalokiteshvara and bring healing and well-being to all who see them.
The Sand Mandala Ritual
The physical sand mandala in this gallery is only one part of a larger ritual. The ceremonies, chanting, meditations, and creative activities performed before, during, and after its construction are all equally important.
Sand mandala rituals include these steps:
1. Purification of the Space
The space in which a sand mandala is to be created must first be purified. This ceremony includes making offerings to the central deity of the mandala, exorcizing hindering spirits, and blessing the ground by dancing around the mandala surface. Certain phases of the preparatory ritual are accompanied by the chanting of religious mantras and by music.
2. Drawing of the Lines
Mandalas are based on a precise grid of lines that are oriented to the cardinal and ordinal directions. The lines cannot be drawn freehand. Monks coat a cord in white chalk and stretch it out from the center across the north/south and east/west axes and the NE/SW and NW/SE axes to create the eight principal lines of the mandala. The nesting squares and circles of the central deity’s celestial palace are then drawn over the directional lines.
3. Invocation of the Deities
The sections of the mandala that will house various deities are purified with saffron water. Afterward, a monk, holding a vajra (ritual scepter) and a ghanta (bell), carefully places a grain of barley on the mandala and recites a mantra to attract each deity to its proper location. The monks visualize the completed composition during this invocation and thus empower the mandala before it is created in sand.
4. Coloring of the Mandala
Filling in the mandala is the last phase of preparation. Four monks, each seated at a directional quadrant, work in unison to fill in the mandala with red, green, yellow, blue, orange, white, and black sand. They work from the center of the mandala to the periphery while meditating on the various parts of the composition. Each monk holds a chak-pur (tubular funnel) in one hand, while the other hand runs a metal rod over the chak-pur’s grated surface. This produces a vibration that causes the sand to flow like liquid. No glue is used to hold the sand in place.
5. Destruction of the Mandala
Sand mandalas are traditionally destroyed shortly after their completion, but this one will remain on view until May 7. The destruction of a sand mandala is a metaphor for the impermanence of life and a means of releasing its healing power. During the closing ceremony, the sand is swept up and placed in an urn. The sand is carried to a nearby body of water, into which it is deposited. The waters then carry the blessing of the central deity to the ocean, and from there it spreads throughout the world.
Sunday, May 7, 4:30 p.m.
Sand Mandala Painting Closing Ceremony
Featuring the Mystical Arts of Tibet
The Frist Center is thrilled to welcome back the Mystical Arts of Tibet, a touring company of monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery (exiled from Tibet and currently based in South India). Their sand mandala ritual will conclude our Free Family Festival Day.
Closing Ceremony Part I: Ritual Destruction of the Mandala
Location: Frist Center Ingram Gallery| Video feed in the auditorium
The first part of the closing ceremony will take place in the Frist Center’s Ingram Gallery. The monks will dismantle the mandala, sweeping up the colored sand to symbolize the impermanence of all that exists. The rite will be accompanied by multiphonic chant and music. It will last approximately 30 minutes.
Approximately 5:15 p.m.
**Closing Ceremony Part II: Procession to the Cumberland River and Dispersal of the Sand
Location: Procession down Broadway to the Riverfront Terraced Lawn Amphitheater (see map), at 170 1st Avenue North
Join the monks as they walk from the Frist Center to the Cumberland River via Broadway. At the water’s edge, the monks will chant and then pour half of the sand into the water, dispersing the healing energies of the mandala throughout the world. The remaining sand from the mandala will be presented to the Frist Center’s Community Partners. The ceremony at the river will last approximately 15 minutes.
**In the event of rain or other extenuating circumstances, the procession to the Cumberland River will be cancelled. Please check this website for the status of this event.
Family Day Parade Directions and FAQ
Exit through any of the Frist Center doors leading to Broadway. Once the monks are in place, they will lead the parade toward the Cumberland River. We will stay in the eastbound (right-hand) lanes. The end of the ceremony will occur at the edge of the Cumberland River in Riverfront Park’s Terraced Lawn Amphitheater. After the ceremony, please use the sidewalks as you leave.
Q. What will happen during the closing ceremony?
A. The monks will ritually destroy the mandala in the Frist Center galleries, and then carry the sand down to the Cumberland River. The sand will be scattered in the water so that the blessings of the mandala will be carried throughout our community.
Q. Where can I watch the first part of the closing ceremony at the Frist Center?
A. Ingram Gallery will be open to the public, but space is limited. The ceremony will also be broadcast live in the auditorium to accommodate more people. Groups with strollers are asked to watch the ceremony from the auditorium.
Q. Can I come back to the Frist Center after the riverfront ceremony is done?
A. No. The Frist Center will close at 5:30, so please take your belongings and artworks with you when you join the parade. We hope to see you again at our next Family Festival Day, on November 12!
Q. May I take pictures?
A. Yes. Take as many pictures as you want, but please turn off your flash.
Q. May I take some of the sand home?
A. No. The sand will be distributed to Frist Center Sustaining Community Partners to spread the blessings of the mandala across Nashville. These partners include:
Centennial Art Center
Edmondson Pike Branch Library
Old Hickory Community Center
Safe Haven Family Shelter
Vanderbilt Kennedy Center
YMCA Latino Achievers
Q. Will traffic be shut down on Broadway during the parade?
A. The eastbound lanes of traffic will be closed, but the westbound lanes will still be open. Please stay behind the barricades and follow the police officers’ instructions when you cross the street.