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Yamantaka Mandala

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The Creation of the Yamantaka Mandala


Asian art curator Robert Jacobsen invited Tibetan monks from the Gyuto Tantric University to create a sand mandala at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Considering the fleeting nature of sand mandalas, museum officials wondered if it might be possible to make the mandala "permanent"—in the hopes of adding it to the museum's collection.

The monks and their sponsors in Minnesota were in favor of the preservation idea, believing it would help tell their story to museum visitors.

Jacobsen contacted locally based Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M), to develop materials that could preserve the mandala.

With intensive research, 3M discovered an ideal sand, permanent pigments, and an adhesive to bind it all together.

A special supportive wooden platform was made to go underneath the mandala in preparation for its eventual vertical display.

Detail: Monk Working

A gallery space at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts was made available for the creation of the mandala, and to allow the public to freely observe the event.


Tibetan monks from the Gyuto Tantric University in northern India arrived in Minnesota for the four-week project.

A traditional opening ceremony took place at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Detail: Ceremony

From memory, the monks sketched an outline for the mandala on the wooden platform.

Detail: Monks Drawing

Following the drawing, the pigmented sand provided by 3M was used to create the mandala. (Each monk holds a tool called a chak-pur in one hand, and runs a metal rod along its ribbed surface. The vibration causes the sand to flow out like a liquid.)

Detail: Tools Used To Apply Sand Detail: Monks Working

Traditionally, after a mandala is completed, it is blessed with a final ceremony and then swept into the nearest body of water. In this case, there was a final ceremony and blessing, but the mandala was left intact for preservation.

Detail: Monks at the Closing CeremonyDetail: Monks at the Closing Ceremony


After the monks' work was finished, Al Silberstein and Edward Peterson, carpenters at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, worked for an additional four weeks to preserve the mandala.

To harden the mandala and fix the sand, a resin—or adhesive—was applied. This was accomplished by surrounding the mandala with a high, makeshift tent. Then the resin was sprayed through a hole at the top of the tent, creating a fog.

After the fog settled, the tent was removed and a scaffold was built over the mandala so Silberstein and Peterson could access any area.

Eyedroppers filled with resin had to be used meticulously to completely seal any previously missed sections.

Each night, infrared lights were used to bake the resin and further solidify the mandala.

Unfortunately, after the resin treatment, the white sand became clear, since it did not contain any pigment. To remedy this situation, these areas were carefully painted.

A specially formulated dark blue oil paint was used to cover the area surrounding the sand.

Finally, the mandala was lifted up vertically, by hand. With virtually every grain of sand intact, it proved to be a successful preservation.

Detail: Edward Peterson, Al Silberstein, and Curator of Asian Arts Bob Jacobsen
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