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Mandala of Shiva and Shakti
Mandala of Shiva and Shakti, Mid- to late 18th century
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What Is a Mandala?

Mandalas are a visual aid to concentration and meditation that have been used in Buddhist and Hindu religious practices for centuries. The word mandala can be translated as “circle” in Sanskrit (a classical language of India). Like the Christian cross or the Jewish Star of David, the mandala consists of very simple shapes that stand for complex and profound ideas. Conceived as a diagram of the divine palace or realm of a deity, the mandala is, more broadly, a visualization of the entire cosmos. Its traditional design often includes circles and squares and can incorporate figures and colors that further enhance its meaning.

A circle is sometimes considered a symbol of the sacred realm, while a square stands for the earth or the man-made world. In the I Ching, an ancient Chinese philosophical text, these shapes correspond to yang (male, celestial energy) and yin (female, receptive energy). The center of a mandala—or abode of the deity—is located within a square—the palace of inner being—which is then surrounded by a series of concentric circles, each representing a level of consciousness. This graphic diagram is a gateway that encourages a journey away from the concerns of everyday life (the periphery) toward a sense of harmony and spiritual wholeness (the center), or the reverse.

To learn more about mandalas and the art and culture of India and the Himalayan region, visit Marvels of the Malla Period: A Nepalese Renaissance 1200–1603.

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