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    Exploring Mandalas: Their Origin and Meaning

    Exploring Mandalas: Their Origin and Meaning


    Mandalas are enjoying a surge of popularity at present; featuring in everything from stylish décor to intricate tattoos. Their appeal is obvious – there’s something about these detailed, geometric designs that is not only pleasing to look at, but deeply symbolic too.

    Here’s some more information about the history of the mandala, and its many hidden meanings.

    Ancient Buddhist Roots

    The word ‘mandala’ is actually a Sanskrit word, meaning ‘circle’ or ‘disc-shaped object’. The name implies something commonplace, but for Buddhists, Tantric Hindus and Jainists, the mandala is highly significant. It’s a symbolic object of devotion, representing the universe or imaginary realm – which devotees must contemplate when meditating.

    At its most basic, a mandala features a square with four gates, containing a circle within it. Each of the gates generally takes the form of a ‘T’, and overall, the design is symmetrical and balanced. However, some designs are astonishingly intricate; and some even feature Lord Vishnu or Buddha at their centre.

    Political and Religious Meaning

    The detailed geometric designs were used by Buddhists to call the deity to mind and assist with meditation. While meditating, Buddhists would focus on the complex design, viewing it as a revelation of truth about the universe; and a symbol of our inner existence and its relation to the world around it.

    More surprisingly, the mandala has also been used to represent political view-points. In the Arthashastra, a text from the fourth to second century BC, the author uses a Raja-mandala (or circle of states), to show the political formations of the time.

    Buddhist Meditation

    Buddhists believe that the mandala represents inner purity and an enlightened mind. It’s viewed as a place that’s separate from the secular world, and is often understood as a representation of Nirvana. When meditating on the mandala, Buddhists claim to experience peace and clarity.

    Some Buddhists also construct mandalas from sand, which they believe passes positive energy to the surrounding environment, and the people fortunate enough to view them. It’s believed that sand mandala painting was invented by Buddha himself, and as such, the process is sacred to practicing Buddhists. The different designs represent the many lessons of Buddha; and each design is proceeded by an opening ceremony, in which the sand is consecrated and the forces of good are called forward.

    Mandalas in the Western World

    The mandala is often seen as a new symbol in western culture. However, it’s believed that the psychoanalyst Carl Jung introduced it in the early 20th century, as a way of exploring the unconscious mind. Each morning, he sketched circular designs in his notepad, which he found to be representative of his inner thoughts. Jung started to encourage his patients to do the same, and believed that the mandala was “the self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well, is harmonious.” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections: Carl Jung).

    Modern Mandalas

    The mandala design continues to be relevant in the modern world, as a symbol for contemplation, calm and inner exploration. They appear all around us, in architecture, art, clothing design and furnishings – which shows just how much people still value their artistry and meaning. Forgotten Tribes have a range of mandala-inspired throws, which can be used on the bed or sofa, or even as a wall-hanging – serving as a daily reminder to enjoy reflection, meditation and inner peace.

    Sacred Nature – Understanding the Tree of Life

    Sacred Nature – Understanding the Tree of Life


    Humans are often drawn to nature – particularly woodlands and forests. There’s something holistic about being in the presence of a tree, and many people claim to feel soothed and calmed, simply by sitting under its shade.

    Unsurprisingly, the motif of a tree – the Tree of Life – appears in many different cultures across the world. Here’s some more information about its origins, and its religious and historical relevance throughout history.

    The Roots of the Tree of Life

    The symbol of the Tree of Life, occasionally called the Sacred Tree or Tree of Knowledge, is important to several cultures.

    The Ancient Egyptians believed that The Tree of Life symbolised the chain of events that brought the world into existence – representing the natural order of things. Other trees were also important – such as the tamarisk tree, which concealed Osiris’s tomb, and the sycamore, which was believed to connect the world of the living with the world of the dead.

    The Assyrians also placed great importance in the Tree of Life, and the motif was often used in their ancient carvings. However, historians aren’t sure what symbolic value the tree had in Assyrian culture, as there is no textual evidence to tell us.

    The symbolic tree also appears in several of the major world religions. Buddha is often depicted gaining enlightenment underneath a tree, and the Tree of Immortality features several times in The Quran. In Christianity, the Tree of Life represents the perfect state of humanity (before the fall of Adam and Eve), and in Judaism, it’s linked to divine wisdom.

    Esoteric Meaning

    The Tree of Life is also the central symbol of the Kabbalah, and depicts the ten Sephirot powers – or ten stages that brought the world into being. The first three Sephirot show the initial primordial energies of the Universe, then the remaining Sephirot show the evolution (the stage called the Abyss). The higher Sephirot depict divine energy.

    However, the Kabbalistic Tree of Life also relates to Man, and the inner self.

    Understanding the Tree of Life

    There are many different understandings of what the Tree of Life really represents. For some, it’s a symbol of development and evolution, with the roots pushing upwards to form the trunk, branches and eventually an abundance of leaves.

    It’s also a representation of the connection between the earth and the heavens – or as some call it, Mother Earth and Father Sun. It’s recognition of the life that supports us all, and the spiritual realm to which many of us aspire to gain better understanding of.

    The Tree of Life can also be taken to be a symbol of elemental power – the unity of earth (where the tree is grown), water (which sustains it), fire (the power of the sun) and air (in which the tree flourishes).

    Decorative Power

    Whatever your thoughts on the Tree of Life, most people agree it’s a powerful, visually appealing symbol – which is why it so often appears in décor and on clothing. Our Tree of Life wall hanging is one of our most popular items, perhaps because people like to be reminded of growth, spirituality and elemental power when they’re at home. It’s a versatile item, which can also be used as a throw, beach wrap or table cloth – the options are endless.

    Print Perfection – Traditional (and Amazing) Ways of Printing on Fabric

    Print Perfection – Traditional (and Amazing) Ways of Printing on Fabric


    Travel the world, and you’ll discover a huge range of traditional printed materials; from the intricate floral fabrics of Asia, to the geometric patterns of Africa. We’ll often appreciate the design and colour of these great garments – without knowing how the effect was achieved; and just how complex some of the printing methods are!

    Here’s a glimpse into some of the world’s most fascinating fabric printing techniques.

    Traditional Fabric Printing Methods

    • Woodblock printing. India is well-known for producing some of the world’s most detailed fabric designs. Whilst many of their materials are stitched or woven, wood-block printing is also frequently used; which is ideal for producing repeating patterns on cloth.

     The carving of the wood block is an art-form in itself; and requires a team of specialist wood-carvers, who transform a block or plank of wood into an intricate pattern. Ink is then applied to the block, which is then pressed on to the cloth. This method is also used by many artisans across South-East Asia.

    • Indonesia (and in particular, Java) is famous for Batik fabric printing; though it’s a technique that’s also used in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Singapore and Nigeria. Firstly, the cloth is washed and beaten, then the artist applies the pattern in hot wax, using a pen-like instrument. Then, the piece of fabric is dyed and the wax removed; which reveals the beautiful pattern underneath.

    Each country has their own variation on batik – both in technique, and the patterns they use. For example, Javanese batik often uses repeating geometric forms, Japanese batik features animals, birds and flowers, and European batik frequently uses images of houses or people.

    • Screen-printing. China is the birthplace of what we now know as screen-printing; though the technique has changed beyond measure over the years. Dating back as far as the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279AD), it’s essentially a form of stencilling. The fabric is pulled tight over a frame, then a stencil is fixed in place, and ink applied over the surface. When the stencil is removed, it leaves a visible pattern.

    These days, the technique is much more sophisticated; and uses chemicals plus a specialist mesh to create a more detailed design.

    • Tie-dye. One of the most modern forms of fabric printing is tie-dying – which originated from the US in the mid-1960s. Forever associated with bohemian ‘hippy’ culture, tie-dye essentially involves folding, scrunching or binding a garment (often with rubber bands), then dying the fabric. After the binding is removed, a vibrant, psychedelic pattern is left.

    More sophisticated forms of tie-dye feature additional steps; such as extra applications of dye, multiple dyes used in sequence, or using different forms of ‘resist’ – for example a stencil, rather than a rubber band.

    • Calico printing originated in India, and initially used the wood-block printing technique. However, in the 17th century, Europeans started to adopt the style, and adapted the printing method, using copper rollers to create the pattern instead.

    Hargreaves and Company, in Preston, Lancashire, were the first to mass-produce calico-printed material – in 1785.

    Traditional Fabrics, Modern Techniques

    Of course, these days, printing methods have been updated, enabling artisan fabric makers to work at a quicker pace. However, the remarkable patterns, imagery and form are still evident in the garments we see today – and each one has a rich history behind it.

    If you’d like to see some examples of traditionally-inspired garments, click here.

    Hmong Fashion: The People, Their History, and Their Textile Legacy

    Hmong Fashion: The People, Their History, and Their Textile Legacy


    You’ll often spot Hmong people in travel brochures, Asian fashion edits and publicity material – due to their iconic, vibrant clothing. Traditional Hmong garments, worn by people across the world, feature complex patterns, embroidery, indigo batik and bright, eye-catching colours; and they’ve been inspiring travellers and fashion-followers alike for years.

    However, there’s more to the Hmong than their clothing. Read this article to learn more about their fascinating history, culture and traditions, and how their fabrics still continue to be worn today.

    The Origins of the Hmong

    The Hmong claim to originate from the Yellow River region of China, in around 3000 BC; though some experts state it was later than this. It wasn’t until the 1800s that they began to migrate; first spreading to Indochina, then to Northern Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam, to avoid oppression.

    After the Vietnamese war, many more Hmong people migrated to Thailand as refugees. However, due to the fact that several had joined the communist party during the war, they were persecuted. To this day, some are still denied citizenship rights, or proper titles to the land they cultivate.

    In the 21st century, there are Hmong people living across the world; including Australia, France and the US. However, 95% still live in Asia.


    The Hmong have a rich, fascinating culture. Traditionally, a shaman leads the tribe, and plays a vital role in the complex funeral and marriage rites. During times of illness, he will enter a trance to visit the underworld and relocate the soul of the ill person in question; and at times, he even undertakes a political role within the village.

    The New Year is particularly important to the Hmong, and is celebrated on the 30th day of the 12th lunar month. During this time, the family and ancestral spirits are honoured; and unmarried boys and girls are encouraged to play games together, in the hope of sparking a marital match.

    The Importance of Textiles

    Textiles play and integral role in Hmong culture. Indeed, they’re considered so important that girls as young as five are taught to embroider, to prepare them for the task of creating marriage and funerary fabrics in later life. They learn how to perform the more complex processes of indigo dying, garment construction and applique at a later stage.

    Hmong Fabrics – Story Cloths

     Hmong fabrics are renowned across the world; thanks to their rich colours and intricate designs. Their story cloths are particularly celebrated. Prior to the 20th century, the Hmong had no form of written language, and instead, communicated ideas and narratives onto beautifully intricate pieces of cloth.

    This practice wasn’t limited to females – even the male members of the village would create story cloths, to convey the story of their people to the outside world, and in some cases, to reveal the extent of their persecution.

    Flower Cloths (Paj Ntaub)

    Their flower cloths (sometimes referred to as rose cloths) are also prized throughout the globe, and feature a range of patterns that are important to the Hmong culture, with evocative names like ‘elephant’s foot’, ‘tiger’s face’ and ‘bird’s wings’.

    The name ‘flower cloth’ derives from the Hmong belief that, if they wrapped their babies in these pieces of fabric, they would be disguised as flowers, and evil spirits wouldn’t be able to steal them.

    Modern Interpretations

    As global tourism developed, more people visited the Hmong tribes of Asia, and fell in love with their spectacular garments and fabrics. Over time, their rich patterns, indigo dyed materials and detailed embroidery began to be incorporated into modern garments, and valued by a new generation of people.

    The Hmong’s remarkable talent with textiles has left a powerful legacy, and many choose to wear Hmong-inspired garments in recognition of their visual appeal and cultural importance. If you’d like to explore our range of Hmong-inspired clothing, simply click here.

    A brief history of Harem Pants by Forgotten Tribes

    A brief history of Harem Pants by Forgotten Tribes

    How Well Do You Know the History of Harem Pants?

    Modern harem pants are associated with laid-back living and casual culture; with a comfortable fit and a liberating sense of unrestrained style.

    They’re so deeply entrenched in Western fashion, that it’s easy to forget that harem trousers have been around for centuries - in several different locations around the world. The name itself gives a clue about their origins, but how often do you ask yourself where the evocative name ‘harem pants’ came from?

    Here’s some insight into the history of these iconic trousers – and their fascinating journey from the deserts of Africa to the fashion-forward cities of the 21st century.

    A Truly Persian Pant?

    The exact origins of the baggy harem trouser that we know and love are unknown. It’s been suggested that harem pants were first worn by Persian men, as long as 2,000 years ago. However, others disagree with this, and suggest that the first true harem trousers were developed later than this; in the Middle East, North Africa or Turkey.

    This would go some way to explaining the name. A term ‘harem’ is defined as a ‘sacred place for female members of the family’ in Arabic culture. Harems were usually made up of wives and concubines, and men were forbidden to enter. 19th century illustrations showed Northern African women from harems wearing large, tulip-shaped trousers to preserve their modesty – and this is where it’s generally agreed that the name originated.

    Harem Trousers’ Asian History

    It wasn’t just Africans, Turkish or Middle-Eastern people donning harem pants. There’s strong evidence to suggest that a similar style of trouser was also being worn in south-east Asia; particularly among the Hmong people of China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.

    However, there were marked differences in style. Whereas Arabic harem pants had a distinctive tulip bottom to each leg, Hmong harem trousers were often wider and lower on the crotch.

    Harem Pants - French Army Fashion

    In the 19th century, French military recruits serving in Northern Africa observed the locals wearing comfortable harem trousers. The soldiers saw the benefits of wearing loose, airy material in the hot desert – and swiftly incorporated the style into their uniform. It’s suspected that this is how harem pants were first introduced to Europe.

    The suffragettes were famous for spurning constrictive corsets and skirts, and were the first European women to embrace the harem pant style; which resulted in predictable protest from their conservative counterparts. In America, Amelia Bloomer made it her personal mission to convince fellow females that harem pants were more comfortable than restrictive dresses – and her legacy was to give the trousers another popular name… the bloomer!

    It wasn’t until 1920s France, when the designer Paul Poiret incorporated harem pant-inspired fashion into his designs, that the iconic trousers started getting serious attention. His combination of exotic harem trouser, combined with Arabic-inspired head-dresses and kaftans, went against the popular belief that women should stick to skirts; and he was criticised for his ‘sexualised’ and ‘inappropriate’ designs.

    Moving Harem Trousers into the Modern Era

    The flowing hippy styles of the 1960s and 1970s were undoubtedly inspired by Poiret’s iconic designs. However, it wasn’t until the 1980s that harem trousers were finally given the recognition they deserved. The humble harem trousers’ most celebrated outing was on the rapper MC Hammer, whose deep red, shiny pants, combined with a bold yellow tailored jacket, went down in history as one of music’s most memorable outfits.

    These days, harem trousers have become a firm favourite in fashion circles; with celebrities such as Rhianna, Heidi Klum and Jennifer Lopez being papped wearing them. Modern harem pants often feature bold, Asian or African-inspired prints as an homage to their origins. Asymmetric tasselled designs hark back to north African styles and exceptionally low crotches are very reminiscent of the Hmong take on the harem trouser. Best of all, harem pants can be worn in a variety of situations – from festivals and days out on the beach, to a night out with friends… and every occasion in between.

    To explore our range of harem pants, visit the Forgotten Tribes site.