In Buddhism, the sand mandala is an ancient tradition
once reserved for monks. The Keydong nuns are among the first Tibetan
women monastics to learn this sacred art practice. At Trinity College in
1998, they were the first Buddhist nuns to create a sand mandala in the
United States. Keydong nuns returned to Trinity to create a second
mandala in February 2005.
On Thursday, September 13, a day deemed
auspicious on the Tibetan calendar, four nuns will start creating a
third mandala in the Austin Arts Center’s Garmany Hall, from brightly
colored sand they are bringing from Nepal.
In the Himalayan valley where the Keydong nunnery is
located, the monastic women collect nuggets of white marble that they
crush, wash, and dry it in the sun. The sand is divided and dyed in five
colors—red, blue, yellow, green, and white—representing the five
“Buddha families,” which contain multiple levels of meaning.
mandala will take one month to complete, and will measure approximately
eight by eight feet, according to Ani Ngawang Tendol, a Keydong nun who
serves as the group’s leader and interpreter. (“Ani” is the honorific
prefix given to a nun’s name in Tibetan Buddhism, and means “Nun.”)
graphic and abstract in design, the intricate forms and spiritual
symbols of a mandala can be “read” by the initiated. At the center is a
square diagram of a palace inhabited by an enlightened celestial being.
In this case, it is Avalokiteshvara, the Buddhist deity of compassion.
Multiple circles surround the deity’s palace.
“Mandala: The Sacred Art of Sand” opens to the public on Friday,
September 14. Visitors should be prepared to take off their shoes before
entering Garmany Hall. That day, public viewing of the mandala making
is from 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., and is followed by a keynote lecture
entitled “Tradition Changing Women, Women Changing Tradition: The
Interface of Tibetan Nuns and the Sacred Art of Sand Mandala Making” by
Melissa R. Kerin, Assistant Professor of Art History, Washington and Lee
University, which will take place at 4:30 p.m. in the adjacent Goodwin
Thereafter, observers are welcome on weekdays from
10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on Saturdays from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
through October 13. There will be occasions when Garmany Hall must be
closed for the nuns’ religious observances, so if you are travelling
from a distance, you are welcome to call ahead of your visit: (860)
On Sunday, October 14 at 12:00 noon, the nuns will
ceremoniously dismantle the mandala and disperse the sands into the
Connecticut River at Charter Oak Landing in a gesture signifying the
impermanence of life. The public is invited to observe these rituals.
School buses on Summit Street, adjacent to Mather Hall, will provide
free, round-trip transportation to the public. Seating is first-come,