Sand Painting: Sacred Art of Tibet
The ancient art of Tibetan sand painting has been preserved in the monasteries of India and Tibet for some 2,500 years. Traditionally practiced in seclusion, this unique art form has only been practiced publicly in the last decades. In this beautifully photographed and fascinating documentary, Tibetan monks from the Dalai Lama’s personal monastery, Namgyal, create the mandala of Kalachakra, the most sacred of all Buddhist sand paintings. The film explores the meaning of the symbols and rituals within the mandala as they have existed through the centuries.
The mandala of Kalachakra is considered a visual metaphor for a perfect universe, a palace where deities reside. The highly intricate and delicately adorned diagrams serve as tools for meditation, transition points between the real and the imaginary. This unusual use of artistic visualization in ritual is one of the defining features of Tibetan Buddhism. More than a symbol, the ritual of the mandala is a living enactment of the Buddhist cycle of change and a demonstration of one of the most spiritually advanced of all Buddhist cultures.
The film’s meditative style perfectly captures the mesmerizing quality of the sand painting. As we hear the scraping of cornets pouring small streams of brilliantly colored sand from their tips, the mandala takes form. An array of extraordinary close-ups appear on-screen: a flaming sword, a lotus blossom, a chariot drawn by mythical animals, a half-inch-tall man fully clothed. Entering the perfect world of the sand mandala, the viewer experiences these compelling symbols and ideas firsthand.
Narrator Lobsang Samten guides viewers through this mystical geography, providing insights into the meaning of the ancient designs. He also tells his own story of survival in exile, and his commitment to preserve Tibet’s sacred arts and practices before they are lost to humanity. There are at present only 100 people who know the Kalachakra sand painting.
Combining stunning imagery and informative commentary, “Sand Painting” will stimulate analysis and discussion in a variety of courses in art, religion, anthropology, and Asian Studies. It was produced by Sheri Brenner in 1991, but is available to educational audiences now for the first time.