Bhutans religion | Buddhism | The Buddhist ritual | The mandala

The mandala

Mandala – kyilkhor in Tibetan – literally means »centre with circumcircle«. Mandalas are geometrically built structures, made out of a circle with an enclosed square which share the centre. The mandala can be understood as the symbolic portrayal of the universe, in which both the physical-cosmic world as well as the psychic-spiritual human find their reflections. This construction of the world is seen as palace or sphere of being of a deity.

Mandalas are visualised in meditation, which puts these graphically imparted forces into practice.


Mandalas come in various forms of presentation. Some are three-dimensional and are meant for continuous use; others are flat and are either drawn with colourful sand, cut out off metal or stone, painted on cloth or printed on paper. Similar to thangkas*, mandalas are also painted or hung on temple walls. They can also be found on the ceilings and gateways of temples where they bless those who pass underneath them.

When making new mandalas, various rules must be observed; furthermore it is necessary to get the permission of the human and non-human owners of the world. Lamas sacrifice ritual cakes and other substances, thus asking for permission to use the relevant site.

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As cosmic models and area of being of the gods, mandalas play an important role in the ritual. Monks either use actual representations of mandalas or visualise them in meditation.
Photo by Jon Warren

Tashigomang, wood, clay; H: 54 cm; 17th century; loan from the National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside, Liverpool
This three-dimensional mandala shows, on various levels, the deities in all four directions of the compass of a specific school. A mandala palace is used by travelling narrators of religious stories. In order to explain his lecture, given in a singsong, the bard opens one gate after the other, thus showing the respective gods of a specific level and direction.