Himalayan Art Resources

Mandala: Types of Mandalas Glossary List

Mandala: Art History | HAR Glossary

Mandala Types List:
- Architectural Mandala
- Bodhi Mandala
- Body Mandala
- Body 'Parts' Mandala
- Ceiling Mandala
- Complex Multi-Mandalas
- Cosmological & Geographical Mandala
- Deity Mandala
- Element Mandala
- Figure Mandala
- Geometric Shaped Mandala
- Imagined Mandala
- Initiation Card Mandala
- Initiation Mandala
- Inverted-figure Mandala
- Letter Mandala
- Lotus Mandala
- Mandala Plate with Deities
- Multi-Mandala
- Mural Painting Mandala
- Offering Mandala & Mandala Plate
- Painting Mandala (mural, scroll)
- Protection Mandala
- Sand Mandala
- Scroll Painting Mandala
- Sculptural Mandala
- 'Self Blessing' Mandala
- Square Mandala
- Symbol Mandala
- Textile Mandala
- Thread-cross Mandala
- Upright-figure Mandala
- Yantra Mandala
- Others...

Architectural Mandala: physical replicas in three dimensions that depict a deity mandala.

Bodhi Mandala: a term referring to the geographic location where a bodhisattva attains complete enlightenment and becomes a Buddha. Bodhgaya (vajrasana) in Bihar, India, is regarded as the Bodhi Mandala of Shakyamuni Buddha. The term is sometimes used in a less technical way to describe special locations associated with specific bodhisattvas such as for Manjushri and his relationship with Wutaishan Mountain.

Body Mandala: as the external world is idealized by the Tantric practitioner and re-created to be the pure abode of a deity, so to the internal body with its senses, organs, veins and nervous system are likewise idealized into an internal body mandala. Painted depictions of body mandala systems are found in the Hindu, Buddhist and Bon religions although less common than the outer mandala of a deity and palace.

Body 'Parts' Mandala: there is a tradition of Vajrabhairava mandalas originating in Tibet with the two translators Rwa Lotsawa Dorje Drag and Mal Lotsawa Lodro Dragpa that describes a surrounding circle of Eight Vetali & Thirty-two Ayudha which are represented as human body parts.

Ceiling Mandalas: mandalas placed on ceilings of temples for the purpose of blessing, protection and decoration.

Complex Multi-Mandalas: are configurations where a large outer mandala contains five, six nine or more inner palaces with various numbers of deities.

Cosmological & Geographical Mandala: painted representations of the four continents and Mount Sumeru, the universe, various types of cosmology, along with sacred realms and purelands such as Tushita, Sukhavati, Medicine Buddha Pureland, or Shambhala.

Deity Mandala: originating in the Indian Tantric literature with the function of serving as a meditational system within the Tantric theory of Deity Yoga (self generation). Under the topic of Deity mandala are Figure Mandalas, Symbol Mandalas and Geometric Mandalas (representing a deity mandala).

Element Mandala: water is represented with a white circle, earth with a yellow square, fire with a red half-circle, and air with a blue triangle. These general shapes also correspond to the four activities.

Figure Mandala: a deity mandala that correctly places images of the actual iconographic figures in the proper locations around the mandala center and periphery. Under Figure Mandala there are two sub-topics: Inverted-figure Mandala and Upright-figure Mandala.

Geometric Shaped Mandala (triangle, circle, square, semi-circle): geometric shapes that represent the four principal activities and the four elements of earth, fire water and air. The Medicine Buddha and Vaishravana Riding a Lion both typically have square shaped mandalas. Other shapes include the tetrahedron and circles within circles as depicted in the Dharmadhatu Vagishvara mandala.

Imagined Mandala: in some situations imagined mandalas are mentioned in the ritual texts. These however are considered only applicable for use by the best teachers and the best students.

Initiations Card Mandala (tsakali): small paintings, generally the size of a floor tile, created in sets and used in Buddhist and Bon rituals and initiations. The mandala cards are used as the central shrine object for initiations and rituals. They are often made for those occasions when large numbers of initiations are given at one time such as the Vajravali and Mitra Gyatsa collections of initiations. Mandala cards are typically more than twice as large as initiation cards (tsakali).

Initiation Mandala: a painted depiction of a mandala, larger than an initiation card, placed flat on a table with rituals objects and offerings arranged at the four sides. This type of mandala serves as the central focus for a tantric initiation ritual. A Mandala Plate with Deities is the identical same type of object except the Mandala Plate is a cloth painting glued to a flat square wooden board and then heavily varnished in anticipation of regular and repeated use.

Inverted-figure Mandala: a mandala painting where all of the secondary figures are standing inverted, half-inverted or upright in relation to the central figure of the composition and to the individual viewer of the composition. Any figures in the composition of a scroll painting that are outside of the mandala circle proper, such as in registers or floating in the corners, are not inverted as they are not actually part of the mandala. (See Upright-figure Mandala).

Letter Mandala: these mandalas are created in a simplified manner with letters used to substitute for the actual deities.

Lotus Mandala (Metal): a three dimensional metal sculpture of a lotus blossom and stem (stand). Hinged petals can appear closed or open revealing a central figure and retinue circle of deities.

Mandala Plate with Deities: painted mandalas glued to a flat square piece of wood approximately an inch or more in thickness. These mandala plates are rugged and designed to be used permanently on a shrine, or for regular monthly rituals and initiations. The three most common subjects for mandala plates are Amitayus, Maha Vairochana and Vajrayogini.

Multi-Mandala, Complex: a mandala where several mandalas are contained within a larger mandala super-structure. Five or six contained mandalas are the most common.

Mural Painting Mandala:

Offering Mandala: a symbolic offering made by Buddhist practitioners of the entire universe and presented to the religious teachers, Buddhas and deities, of the past and present. A specific ritual object called a mandala plate is used for this ritual although anything flat and clean is also acceptable. Mandala plates filled with rice and multi-tiered are also commonly kept on a permanent shrine. Shrine mandalas are constructed from a flat metal mandala plate and then three or four rings of metal, often engraved, embossed or repousse worked, and topped with a small replica of a heavenly palace or a Dharma wheel.

Painting Mandala (mural, scroll): (see the Mandala Main Page).

Protection Mandala:

Sand Mandala: the first and most important type of initiation or empowerment mandala, followed by painted mandalas, symbol, letters, and lastly plain mandalas. In some situations imagined mandalas are mentioned in the ritual texts. These however are considered only applicable for use by the best teachers and the best students. Sand mandalas are generally deconstructed after use and the sand removed to a clean location such as a river.

Scroll Painting Mandala: (see the Mandala Main Page).

Sculptural Mandala:

'Self Blessing' Mandala:

Square Format:

Symbol Mandala: these are a simplified mandala where the hand attributes of the deities are used in place of actually drawing and painting the deities themselves. Sometimes only the symbolic attributes of the central deity are used and the retinue figures are filled in with small coloured circles. In other cases there is nothing to indicate the presence of the retinue figures.

Textile Mandala: the same as painted mandalas, textiles function in the same manner. In some cases textiles are used horizontally for permanent mandala shrines, with a canopy above and offerings around the perimeter.

Thread-cross Mandala (Tibetan: namka): made from thin pieces of wood as a frame wrapped with variously coloured threads into geometric patterns, circular, square and triangular. They are generally flat objects, displayed vertically. For elaborate rituals they are constructed into large three-dimensional palaces placed at the center of a mandala.

Upright-figure Mandala: a mandala painting where all of the secondary figures are standing perfectly upright in relation to the central figure of the composition and the individual viewer of the composition. (See Inverted-figure Mandala).

Yantra Mandala: diagram, device, also referring to the very active and dynamic yogic postures and routines in Vajrayana Buddhism.

Jeff Watt 8-2016 [based on the Mandala Technical Glossary, July 11th, 2009]