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.

Back to blog