For Internet enthusiasts and loyal subscribers to Facebook and Youtube, sand painting means talents such as Kseniya Simonova, Ilana Yahav, or Joe Mangrum. Artists that amaze us with the creativity and dexterity that bring sand to life, creating stunning details. What few know is that the art of sand painting has deep roots in history and a deep connection with the spirituality of ancient peoples.
Sand painting, also known as dry painting, involves the casting of colored sand or pigments in powder form from minerals or crystals on a surface in order to create shapes and images. It is an ancient tradition present in ancient cultures such as those of American natives, Australian aborigines and Tibetan monks.
In Tibetan culture, sand painting is called Sand Mandala and symbolizes the passage of material life, the Tibetan tradition of sand painting involving both the creation and the destruction of the drawing. The first historical mentions of painting in Tibetan sand appear in the 14th-15th centuries in the Blue Annals, a history of Tibetan religions written by Go Lotsawa Zhonnu Pel.
The term “mandala” comes from Sanskrit and means “circle” representing a central symbol in Hindu religion for everything that means the universe. The basic form of a mandal is the square with four T-shaped gates and a circle in the middle. The four gates symbolize a variety of elements such as the four cardinal points or the four infinite emotions: love-kindness, compassion, understanding, and soul balance.
Because the work of sand painting lasts from a few days to a few weeks, monks use a special sand with granules that are heavier than ordinary ones to avoid wind damage or a simple sneeze. The technique used is to draw the mandala outline, which is then filled with colored sand, from inside to outside using a series of special tools called chak-pur (small tubes and scrapers).
For the Tibetan monks the opportunity to participate in this ceremony is a great honor that comes after a long spiritual and artistic training. With patience, mildness, an enviable calm and a serenity specific to Buddhist spirituality, the monks create incredible paintings that take shape step by step. Geometry and preparations that are made prior to the actual start of painting lead to the intricate architecture of life and the beauty of the human being that complements every day with unique nuances, colors and details.
The colors used to create the painting are white, yellow ocher, red, charcoal, blue obtained from the blending of gypsum-based coal, brown obtained by mixing red and pink black and red sand and white gypsum. Among the elements used to obtain colors besides red sand and galeb, gypsum and coal also include corn flour, flower pollen and dried roots.
The sand painting ceremony is a complex one and ends with the destruction of all the paintings. The removal of the elements that make up the mandala is done in a special order, with the same attention as creating the painting, until the last sand grains have been removed. The sand gathered by the destruction of the mandala is tightly wrapped in a silk-covered container and then scattered over the water into a flowing water, the gesture symbolizing the ephemeral nature of life and the world.