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The meaning (and mystique!) of the mandala

Learn more about the repeating patterns and deeper connections of this lovely design element
Mandala bracelet

Mandalas have really captured my imagination of late. I love patterns and repetition, whether it takes the form of wallpaper, fabric, or contemporary art. I've always loved classical architecture and I cannot tear my eyes away from interesting tile. 

I've always been a bit obsessed with symmetry, too. I worked for many years doing visual merchandising in bookstores, and if a display was off-balance I would rearrange somewhat compulsively until there was a more cohesive pattern. There were so many times that I'm sure no one noticed but me, but a certain sense of calm and satisfaction would definitely come over me when I could get that symmetry just right!

The mandala traces its origins back thousands of years, so I'm not sure why it took me quite so long to notice! I don't recall ever really paying attention until the adult coloring book craze of the past few years. The first time I saw an entire book of black-and-white patterns just waiting for me to bring to life--well, it was a bit of a religious experience for me! 

Which leads us, of course, to meditation and zen, the key philosophy behind mandalas. 

Shalom Coloring
This coloring book, by Judy Dick and Freddie Levin, features stunning imagery drawn from Judaic objects, art and tradition. 

Shalom Coloring: Jewish Designs for Contemplation and Calm, Behrman House, ISBN 978-0-87441-941-2, $11.95.

In both the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, the mandala represents the universe. In those philosophies, it is believed that meditating on those patterns may help to deepen the spiritual connection with the universe, or to gain knowledge from within. 

Taken literally, the word "mandala" means "circle" in Sanskrit. In a traditional mandala, patterns repeat and echo in a symmetrical fashion, usually centered around a core. These patterns can be geometric, or derived from nature -- flowers or suns are common motifs. The circular nature of the designs represent the importance of balance and structure in life, but also can represent infinity or eternity. 

Mandalas are often intricate and are filled with vibrant colors. They sometimes feature other iconography with a meaning to a particular faith, like the lotus blossom for Hindus or a deity in Buddhism. But there are no strict rules, and many people use any imagery that is meaningful to themselves or representative of their own faith. It is not uncommon to find Judaic or Christian imagery in a mandala--or for a mandala to have no connection whatsoever to an organized religion!

Motifs from India
Dover Publications has been printing mandala coloring books for many years. The great thing about Dover is that many of their titles feature imagery that is in the public domain, which means it is copyright-free and can be adapted to create a new piece of art. This book is a great source of ideas for your own mandala. 

5000 Designs and Motifs from India, by Alit Mookerjee. Dover Publications, ISBN  978-0486-29061-4, $16.95. Also available in a digital format. 
Get out a paper and pencil and try creating your own mandala! Choose some shapes, or colors, and sketch out some repeating patterns. Pay attention to symmetry, or work in a circular pattern--this should be a creative as well as spiritual exercise! Try to do this in a relaxed state; maybe play some music or light a candle. Do whatever it is that helps you to find focus, and just let a pattern emerge! You might be surprised and delighted with the results. 

I am not a great artist on paper, I'm much more three-dimensional, and I prefer to hammer than sketch. So I buy the coloring books! I like to work in only a few colors at a time, maybe just four different shades of blue, and see how creative I can get with a limited palette.
Mandala pendant necklace
So how do you bring this calm and peacefulness into jewelry? We've featured some mandala jewelry on Facet, including this pretty necklace by Anna Elizabeth Draeger that includes a mandala focal piece. Also, Francesca Walton designed the lovely bracelet pictured above. If you download the PDF of the project, you'll find a blank template where you can customize the color palette to suit your own spirit. 

Next week we'll share some metal stamping projects that embrace the spirit behind the mandala, complete with repeating patterns and circular motifs. Be sure to check back!
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