What is a mandala?

In recent years there has been a huge surge in interest for mandalas as a fashion and lifestyle symbol. We’re seeing them pop up all over home decor departments on tapestries and pillows, in adult coloring books, as tattoo designs and featured on clothing. The captivating designs are pleasing to the eye, but have you ever wondered what they really represent and mean? In this blog we’re going to explore the history of the mandala, its meaning and uses, and how you can create your own.

Mandala history

Pronounced “mon- dah- lah”, the word means "circle”, and the the Tibetan word for a mandala, kyilkor (dkyil-‘khor), means literally “that which encircles a center,”.

Although often they may include other shapes such as squares or triangles, mandalas always have a concentric (circular) nature. Most mandalas are a square containing or being contained by a circle, with four gates or openings at the cardinal points. Mandala designs can be simple, or more complex depending on the intention behind them and what the represent. Often they feature bright colors and intricate detailing.

They first started to be used as a visual representation in ancient Tibet during 8th-9th CE in writing, sketches and paintings, and later in the 11th-12th CE on the walls of religious sanctuaries. Some religious buildings and temples have even been entirely modelled on the shape of the mandala. Several monks may work on the same Mandala. They have made their way to every southeast Asian culture since then, and in recent years, made it to the mainstream culture in the west.

What does the mandala mean?   


The response evoked by this question will vary between individuals, depending on their background, culture, religion, beliefs and perceptions. There are multiple meanings behind the ancient symbol, but on the most part, mandalas represent wholeness, unity and harmony, and is the most universal symbol known to man.

The mandala holds great significance and importance in Buddhist religions, and is used as a spiritual and ritual symbol, where the meaning is to represent the pure and sacred realm of existence created by a Buddha. It represents the universe, and the circular aspect of the design symbolises the neverending nature of life, and that everything is connected. Tibetan Buddhist monks sometimes create Mandalas from colored sand, and later brush it away. Often many of them will work on the mandala together whilst meditating on the same subject. 

Hinduism also views the mandala as a symbol of great significance, both in religious and political terms. They can be used to map a particular political infrastructure, symbolising a governmental system, but are also used as a tool to help them in “centring”, focusing and meditating, as there is no strict definition or useage of mandalas in Hinduism.

In Jungian psychology the Mandala can be seen as a graphical represenation of the centre, or the self. It is said to appear in dreams and visons, and is also spontaneously created as a work of art. 

However, different kinds of mandalas can be found in almost every faith, including Native American teachings, Judaism and Christianity.

How are mandalas used?

Mandalas are used in a variety of ways, serving different purposes, and in the most traditional sense they are used as a ritualistic symbol in spiritual practice.  

They're used by many for personal growth, as a tool to gain insight, clarity and to become more authentic and true to yourself. When you are struggling to make sense of your life, or feel something stuck deep inside of you, the mandala can help you to explore this and unpack it, creating a deeper connection with yourself. They can help you to access the space inside where your intuition, creativity, and spirituality reside, and assist you in taking a step out of your left side, logical and rational thinking brain, and into your right hand side, creative brain.

The mandala is widely used in meditation, as the designs are thought to be so visually pleasing, that it causes the viewer’s mind to become so absorbed in its beauty that it can't possibly be distracted by the chatter of upsetting or irrational, negative thoughts. Before sitting down to meditate, you should first set an intention, and this intention may be reflected in the type and design of the mandala that you choose. Check out this website to find out the different meanings associated with different mandala designs.

Mandalas are also used by many as a form of stress relief. Adult colouring books with intricate mandala designs have become a popular way of relieving stress, and a wonderful way of stepping back to the childlike, creative attitude that comes with colouring in. The therapeutic aspect of the process can help to reduce anxiety and foster mindfulness.

Although the mandala movement is not a new one, in the realm of fashion the mandala has burst on the scene once again, and their sheer beauty makes it plain to see why. Mandala print clothing has become hugely popular, and you can find the incredible symbol all over harem pants, skirts and featured in jewellery. The fashion industry has welcomed the design that is all about symmetry, colour and soul with open arms, and the oneness and unity that mandalas represent make it the perfect design for a hippy who wants the world to know how much they still value the artistry and meaning of the mandala.

Here on the Hippy Clothing Co website we have lots of products featuring beautiful mandala patterns, check them out here

How to draw your own mandala  

You may be planning and setting aside some time to sit down and draw your mandala, or perhaps you may use the practice impromptu to help you find a place of calm, such as in a notebook during a stressful day at work. Either way, this is how you can start this genuinely satisfying experience and create your very own intricate masterpiece:

  1. Take in a few long, deep, soothing breaths to get yourself into a calm, relaxed and open state of mind. Then set your intentions. What are you hoping to get out of this experience?.
  2. Next, take your clean, blank piece of paper and draw a large circle. To do this you can draw around something circular such as a bowl, use a compass or just freestyle it, there are no rules when drawing your own mandala!
  3. Then draw a smaller shape inside of the large circle, and this can be whatever shape you want it to be. It could be a triangle, a diamond, or another circle, but it is best to choose a shape that has meaning and significance to you, as this will become the theme of your mandala.
  4. The next step is to choose another shape, again, listening to what feels right inside of you, and draw it all around your centre shape. Go with the flow and see what shapes your mind and hands come up with together.
  5. Continue to add as many or as few rings to the shape as you feel. You can try drawing a different motif or shape each time, making your way out to the outer circle.
  6. As your motifs and shapes increase in size, try playing around with drawing smaller, different shapes inside of them. Add as little or as many as you feel!
  7. And the last step…. Is whatever you want it to be. You are the creator of your mandala and only you can decide when it is complete.
  8. When you have decided your work is done, take a step back and admire the beautiful stream of creative consciousness that you have just captured on paper! Keep it to admire and assist you in your mediation in the future.