Mandala Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

Mandala Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

Mandala tattoos are a beautiful art form which have quickly gained popularity over the past few years for their intricacy and meaning. But what do they represent?

A mandala is an important Hindu and Buddhist symbol which is used in worship, meditation, ceremonial rituals, and sacred art. The symbolic meaning behind these circles can be impermanence, knowledge, and meditation, or can have a special meaning to the person getting it tattooed.

The mandala is easily recognizable by its intricate designs which are confined within a circle, organized around a certain focal point which can represent the world and the greater universe. These designs are important for meditation and prayer in Tibet, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Indonesia, and Japan, but are growing in popularity across the West.

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What is the History of Mandala Tattoos?  

The word ‘mandala’ actually translates to ‘circle’ or ‘discoid object’ in Sanskrit, and the first evidence of the mandala dates back to the first century BC. Buddhist monks would travel along the Silk Road to introduce Buddhism to other parts of Asia.

The monks would carry mandalas with them along their journeys, and by the fourth century, this art form could be seen in Tibet, China, and Japan.

Traditionally, a mandala would be created by a group of monks who would come together to mediate, chant, and use music to call forth goodness, healing, and purity. Then, they would use grains of colored sand from chak-purs to produce the mandala, using symbols to create circles contained within a square. 

Once the mandala had been created, they would disassemble it, representing the impermanence of living. It would then be dispersed to share the blessings of the world with everyone both inside and outside of the group.

Students would create a different type of mandala known as a teaching mandala, where every line, color, and shape represents a different part of religious or philosophical life. The student would create a mandala to symbolize everything they have learnt, serving as a mental map to track their developing knowledge.

Nowadays, mandalas are often created by artists who base the design on both Buddhist iconography and artistic tradition. The highlights and details are what make the mandalas so striking, and this can be executed very well in mandala tattoos.

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What Do Mandala Tattoos Symbolize?  

There are many recognizable symbols within a mandala that you can find both in artwork and in tattoos. Typically, the circular patterns are created with a certain intricate nature in order to represent Buddha’s peace of mind. This is often depicted by a tree, wheel, flower, or jewel.

In the middle of the mandala is a dot. This represents the part of humanity which is free of attachment, and open to contemplation and devotion.

You will see many different geometrical patterns which flow outwards or around the dot, and these symbolize the universe. The outer circle of this represents human life and the cyclic nature which it possesses. 

Some of the most popular symbols which are used within mandalas are:

  • Bells: To represent emptying the mind and creating an open space for clarity, meditation, and wisdom.
  • Lotus: The lotus is a sacred flower in Buddhism and it symbolizes the human pathway to enlightenment.
  • Sun: The universe, energy, and life.
  • Triangles: Downward-facing triangles represent the pursuit of creativity, knowledge, and understanding, and upward-facing triangles represent action and energy.
  • Eight-spoked wheel: This stands for the Eightfold Path of Buddhism, the practices which allow humans to gain rebirth and liberation from suffering.
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What Do Mandala Tattoos Mean? 

Often created as a devotional image to represent the ideal universe, the mandala signifies the transformation of suffering to joy. When used in meditation, it can be used to envision the perfect self: a self free from suffering, attachments, and negative energies. This is especially useful during Buddhist meditation.

But you won’t just see the mandala in Buddhism – in fact, the symbol is popular in many different cultures across the world.

Every single culture sees mandalas as a way of encouraging introspection, creating awareness of one’s place in the world, and for fostering a peaceful state of mind.

For example, you will find the mandala in Hinduism (where some argue that it was first created in the Rig Veda), as a meditative tool in Jainism and Shintoism, and as representations in Persia, Northern Europe, the Iberian peninsula, and with Celts and Native Americans.

It seems as though above everything, the mandala truly unites us all.

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Characteristics and Styles of Mandala Tattoos 

The most common type of mandala tattoo is actually a flower mandala. This incorporates a floral motif into the design, either with one central flower or several different blossoming flowers. These all have mandala patterns detailed in the petals.

Usually, mandala tattoos are black-and-white and heavily detailed, and as such, work very well as larger fine-line tattoos. Sometimes, they will have decorations such as gems and diamonds hanging down from the mandala.

Half-mandalas are also popular, and a great option for those who want their tattoo to be a little smaller.

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Where Do Mandala Tattoos Usually Go? 

Usually, mandala tattoos are smaller on women and larger on men.

On women, you will find them down the side of the wrist, the rib cage, the front of the forearm, and on the side of the buttocks.

On men, you will see larger pieces on their backs, the back of the calf, and on the upper arm. Sometimes, they are incorporated into a sleeve.

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Final Thoughts 

Mandalas are symbols of peace, blessings, impermanence, meditation, and focus, and can be a great option for those who both practice meditative religions and do not.

The most popular mandala tattoo is the flower mandala, which showcase details inside the petals, and you will often find gems or diamonds hanging down from it. Both full pieces and half-pieces are popular.

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