Historically the sand was made of precious stones, ground down to a flour-like consistency and slowly added to the mandala with fingers, pinch by pinch. These days the monks are far more practical, and use pieces of marble, similarly ground and then dyed brilliant colours.
They use a chagpur, a long metal tube with a scoop at one end and textured rings tapering down to a narrow point at the other. Scooping up a small amount of sand, they then bend close to their work and use a rasp to shake the sand evenly out of the tube in as delicate or thick a line as they want.
This mandala was created as a performance in the Wellcome Collection of London as part of their Tibet's Secret Temple exhibit, by monks from the Tashi Lhunpo monastery in Tibet.
For a week, there were one or two monks in attendance for hours, constructing gorgeous patterns, building up layers of sand in petal-shaped cushions, or patiently dropping broad, thin planes of solid colour.
They first used calipers and rulers to draw a pattern any architect or engineer would be proud of. This design of perfect symmetry represents the heavenly home of one or more Tibetan deities, surrounded by their attendants and symbols of spiritual significance.
Then they filled the pattern with intricate work in blazing colours.
When the mandala was complete, the monks held a dissolution ceremony, sweeping away their meticulous and vivid work into swirls of brightly-coloured sand. This destruction, which can seem abrupt and tragic to some Western artists, is part of the monks' practice of humility and non-attachment.
The above is the time-lapse footage from the creation of this Mela or Medicine Mandala.
|Image from a great post on sand mandalas from Dark Roasted Chocolate|