This book attempts to fill this gap by clarifying important aspects of mandalas and yantras in specific Hindu traditions through investigations by renowned specialists in the field. Its chapters explore mandalas and yantras in the Smarta, Paricaratra, Saiva and Salta traditions. An essay on the vastupurusamartdala and its relationship to architecture is also included.
In South Asia, mandalas have been used mainly in occasional rites of worship. In these rites deities are invoked into mandalas with the aid of mantras. The construction of a mandala is especially important in Tantric initiation (dik.sa) rites. In esoteric teaching, a mandala may be visualized as present in the practitioner's body by correlating the cosmic symbolism of the mandala with the practitioner's body parts. Mandala patterns have had other far-reaching influences. They have, for example, had an impact on ancient town-planning. The use of mandalas is also documented in alchemy.'
The South Asian tradition of preparing and worshipping mandalas and yantras continues up to the present. On the level of folk art the kohbar mandalas, which decorate the walls of the nuptial chamber in the Mithila region of north Bihar (India) and Nepal, are a good example of this. So are the auspicious floor designs prepared with rice flour or coloured powders and regionally known as rangoli, alpana, muggulu or kolam, which have been influenced by mandala and yantra patterns.
Yantras have been employed especially in rites of magic. Their use has been recommended in astrology and, to some extent, in Ayur-Veda. The yantra of a deity is customarily placed under the deity's statue at the time of its installation in a temple. Patterns of yantras, like those of mandalas, have had widespread influence. In the citrabandha compositions in Sanskrit, for example, text can be arranged in yantra-like shapes.'
Like mandalas, yantras continue to be worshipped in South Asia. The gricakra or sriyantra, which is a configuration of a central point and sets of triangles surrounded by lotus petals, circles and a square, is widely worshipped in contemporary India and Nepal. It is installed and worshipped, among other places, in the Srtigeri matha, which claims to uphold arrikara's tradition. In Nepal, it decorates roofs of shrines. The sricakra is now also sold as a pendant to be worn around the neck, and is printed on popular wall calendars. A numerical yantra, the visoyantra,3 is currently worshipped in Ambaji, Gujarat.' Popular books promote yantras for miscellaneous mundane purposes, including safe driving. Copper yantras from India can easily be purchased over the Internet for similar purposes.
Patterns typical of mandalas and yantras have inspired modern Indian architecture, art and dance. The Mumbai-based contemporary architect Charles Correa has been guided by mandala designs in his layout of buildings, such as the new State Assembly (Vidhan Bhavan) in Bhopal. Inspired by a navagrahamandala pattern, Correa designed the Jawahar Kala Kendra, a cultural centre in Jaipur. Correa's Surya Kund in Delhi is said to be based on a mandala plan featuring the §ricalcra in its centre.' Inspired mainly by the §rickrack, the 20th-century Indian artist Nirad Majumdar created his ink drawing Yantra.6 The contemporary dancer Chandralekha acknowledges the influence of the Saundaryalahari attributed to Samkara on ner dance piece `Yantra: Dance Diagrams,' a work in which geo-metrical figures are created by dancers.
While a body of literature is growing in which mandala-like structures of different cultures are compared with one another and their use in therapy is explored, not much solid research has been done on mandalas in the Hindu traditions, and indeed no systematic study has as yet emerged. Descriptions of mandalas in ancient texts are barely studied, and usually left untranslated. Descriptions of them in popular books often appear to be confused, since many authors apply the same terminology to what appear to be somewhat similar structures without differentiating between traditions. Psychoanalysts and psychologists endeavour to interpret the mandala by applying their own categories. These approaches are of limited value for an understanding of the structures and functions of mandalas in the context of South Asian traditions. Since mandalas are not objects of art per se but are embedded in a ritual context, a purely art-historical approach to the subject will not do justice to them either.
Thanks to advances in the study of Tantric texts over the past decades and the increased availability of objects from South Asia, new materials have become available which put us in a better position than previous scholars to carry out research on mandalas and yantras. But museums are usually not the places to look for mandalas and yantras, since the latter are ritual rather than art objects, and so executed by craftsmen rather than artists. An exception is the collection of about 60 copper yantras from Bengal in the Museum far indische Kunst, Berlin. The private collection of yantras and mandalas of Robert Clark, Barcelona, is documented in Stadtner 1998.
Book's Contents and Sample Pages
Brahma Sutras (81)
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