What is a Mandala

What is a mandala

“What is a mandala?”

“Where do mandalas come from? Who invented the mandala?”

You hear these and similar questions all the time.

Mandalas are a type of art that have been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. They have always been used in rituals and meditation practices to assist the user in achieving true enlightenment. This article explains what a mandala is and goes into the history of mandalas


Who invented the Mandala?

mandala at church entrance

No one can say for sure who invented the mandalas. The history of mandalas goes back to very ancient cultures such as Indian, Tibetan, Nepalese and Egyptian art forms. Some people think that they originated in India and have been used there for thousands of years. Others believe they originated in Asia or North Africa and were brought to Europe by traders during the Middle Ages. Mandalas from the Middle Ages can be found, for example, in the famous works “Scivias (1152)” and “Liber Divinorum operum (1163-1170)” by Hildegard of Bingen. 

Since then, mandalas are also often found in architecture, for example in churches. A famous one is for example the “Roséton of the Cathedral de Léon“. There are many theories about the history of mandalas, but none could be ultimately proven and some say that mandals have their roots in a culture even older than that of the Egyptians.

Where does the name Mandala come from?

where comes the name mandala from

Most people have encountered a mandala at one time or another, but do not know where the name comes from. The word “mandala” means “circle” in the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit, and it comes from the root words of “man” (mind) and “dala” (tool). In the Sanskrit Thesaurus, the term mandala is given various meanings. Among others, it is also equated with “chakravala”, which means cosmic disc. The chakras are in constant circular motion and absorb energy. In the Orient, energetic circles have fundamental meaning for art, tantrism and yoga.

How is a mandala structured?

How is a mandala structured

The basic principle of the mandala is usually a circular image with different geometric design. It can be quite simple in appearance and contain, for example, only a single equilateral triangle. However, mandalas can also have a very high complexity and variety of shapes. All mandalas have one thing in common: they have a central point. This is called Bindu. The Bindu symbolizes the materialization seed of the universe and therefore symbolizes the highest possible reality. From this center, the diagram develops  outward. Here the various patterns and motifs repeat and mirror each other, and increasingly diverge. The meaning of the individual elements can vary depending on the culture.


Related: also check out The 10 best mandala coloring books

The meaning of the mandala in the eastern cultural area

Chakravala Mandala

In Buddhism, the mandala is a two-dimensional image of a three-dimensional palace surrounded by the pure land. The palace is projected into a circle and has gateways in all heavenly directions. In the center, the one meditating visualizes his meeting with one or more Buddhas. The mental projection is intended to dissolve the ego attachment, which in Buddhism is considered the cause of all suffering. Here not only forms and nature symbols are used. In China and Japan mandalas present often hand-brushed characters.

The meaning of the mandala diagrams in the western culture sphere

Elephant Mandala

Mandalas also become popular in Western culture. Here, apart from a ritual or religious understanding, only a circular and symmetrical diagram is often understood.

In these, typical shapes such as circles, flowers and squares are arranged around a common center. These shapes and patterns, in turn, are so well known that one can now find coloring pictures for children in which, for example, animals are filled in with these types of shapes. In these animal mandalas or neo-mandalas the shapes no longer share a common center.


As early as 1959 the famous Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung, the father of analytical psychology, published a scientific examination of the meaning and symbolism of mandalas [1]

Now you know a little about the background of mandalas. Maybe you want to draw or color a mandala yourself? If so, click one of the mandalas of your interest below and you will find more articles, about these fascinating artworks.


[1] Jung, C. G. (1959). Mandala symbolism (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.).
In The collected works of C. G. Jung (vol. 9). Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press.

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