They lean over the table, closely concentrating on what lies in front of them. They use rulers to sketch the lines just right, because the lines have to be precise. Also, they must be precise when scraping sand from a curved tube to the flat surface of the artwork.
A group of Tibetan monks is creating a “sand mandala” this week in Georgia Southern University’s Russell Union commons area as part of the Mystical Arts of Tibet World Tour, endorsed personally by the Dalai Lama.
The monks in Statesboro are from the Drepung Loseling monastery in Mundgod, India, which is in the southeast part of the country, about 75 miles from the Arabian Sea. With a 25-year history of tours as part of the Mystical Arts of Tibet productions, the monks have created mandala sand paintings unique to the Tibetan culture in hundreds of museums, art centers and universities in the United States and Europe.
Georgia Southern invited the monks to campus because the sand mandala exhibit is something that had not been seen before on campus, Takeshia Brown, director of the Multicultural Student Center, said.
Also, Brown said people may be interested in the exhibit because monks from the Drepung Loseling monastery were featured in an episode of the Netflix show “House of Cards” creating a sand mandala.
Meaning behind the mandalas
There are different sand mandalas that represent different Buddhas. Some mandalas can take a long time to create, but the mandala in the Russell Union will be completed by Friday, Geshe Loden, the spokesperson for the monks, said.
The monks, working in rotating groups, have spent the past several days laying out millions of grains of sand onto a flat platform, creating a vivid, detailed work of art full of color.
Sand mandalas are not typically a task that the monks complete in a day. The mandalas are associated with special occasions in monasteries, so they are created on an intermittent basis.
As well, monks who are learning the art of sand mandalas usually take a while to master the skills for it.
“It takes at least around a year, a year and a half to two years to learn what they are doing now, to get to this kind of very steady hand,” Loden said.
Overall, the monks are trained to be able to do 10 different mandalas. The mandala being made at Georgia Southern is the mandala of the green tara.
The letter in the center of the mandala symbolizes the tara, a female Buddha who represents enlightened activities, a quality of enlightened beings. The mandala is the manifestation of the enlightened quality of the activities, Loden said.
Loden explained that the monks have maintained a couple of different goals as part of their tour creating sand mandalas.
“We try to promote peace and harmony among the people with our unique culture of loving and compassion to people around the world,” Loden said.
The monks’ world tour also allows the monks to tell people about Tibet and Tibetan culture.
Part of that culture includes the history of Tibetan monks as a whole.
Though the monks visiting the university live in India, Tibetan monks historically hail from Tibet, a region of China contested between Tibetans and the Chinese government.
“Since we are exiled in India, the majority of Monks are refugees from Tibet, so from this tour, we attempt [to get] whatsoever funds and proceeds from this,” Loden said. “It’s going to help in the monastery for the education, [so] they have their food and everything.”
The closing ceremony for the mandala exhibit is set for noon Friday in the Russell Union commons.
One student, Giselle Martinez, 20, of Statesboro is familiar with the process by which the monks destroy the mandala. She is a senior studio art major who has taken classes where she learned about the Tibetan sand mandalas.
Martinez said, “They will destroy it by picking up the sand, and (the sand) is all blessed. They’re going to collect it up and they’ll actually give members of the audience blessed sand.”