Mandala on the Yampa

Drepung Loseling Monks working on the 2015 Green Tara mandala

Tibetan Buddhist monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery took up residency in Library Hall, once in 2010 and again in 2015, in order to construct Mandala Sand Paintings. Each installation lasted five days, and Steamboat Springs residents and visitors had the the opportunity for a first-hand experience with a rare and beautiful art form that travels here from the high Himalayas. Working throughout each day, the monks laid down millions of grains of colorful sand to form an intricate mandala image. 

Mandala Sand Painting is an ancient art form designed to purify and heal the environment and its inhabitants. From all the artistic traditions of Tantric Buddhism, painting with colored sand ranks as one of the most unique and exquisite. To date, the monks have created mandala sand paintings in more than 100 museums, art centers, and colleges and universities around the United States and Europe, including residencies at the Bud Werner Memorial Library in 2010 and  2015.

Each Mandala Sand Painting began with an opening ceremony for the community, during which the monks blessed the site and called forth the forces of goodness with chanting, music and mantra recitation. They then drew an outline of the mandala on their wooden platform using chalk, compass and string. The monks spent the following days skillfully placing colored grains of sand using a traditional metal funnel called a chakpur while running a metal rod along its ribbed surface. The vibration causes the sands to flow like liquid onto the platform.

The monks’ residencies each ended with a tradition that illustrates the impermanence of life: The monks destroy their Mandala Sand Paintings shortly after completion. The colorful sands were swept up and placed in an urn during closing ceremonies – after which the monks  led the community outside along the riverbank and the sands were sent ceremoniously down the Yampa River to carry a healing blessing to the ocean and the rest of the world.