Maṇḍalas: Hindu Maṇḍalas
MAṆḌALAS: HINDU MAṆḌALAS
The maṇḍala, a complex geometric design, is used in Hindu rituals in order to involve the whole cosmos in the ritual act. Maṇḍala s were first described in Tantric texts, but they already appear there in such detail and in such highly evolved forms that an earlier, unrecorded tradition of maṇḍala construction must be assumed.
The interest of the early Hindus in geometric designs with cosmological implications is attested by the careful construction of Vedic altars mentioned in the Taitti-rīya Saṃhitā (5.4.11) and in the Baudhāyana Śulvaśāstra and the Āpasthamba Śulvaśāstra. The best-known design is the falcon-shaped altar for the Agnicayana ritual. In this design, well-defined places are demarcated as seats for the gods during the ritual. Other geometrically shaped altars were in the forms of triangles, wheels, and so forth. They all developed out of a basic design, called caturaśraśyenacit, a fire altar "resembling a falcon [constructed] from squares." The shape of a particular maṇḍala depends on the special purpose of the sacrifice.
Another description of the geometrical designs for ritualistic purposes is found in the Vastuśātras, the handbooks on architecture. Instead of an outline in reduced scale, the Indian architect used a square (vastumaṇḍala ) consisting of a grid of 64, 81, or more small squares as the starting point of a temple construction. Such a vastumaṇḍala was regarded as the body of the cosmic being (vastupuruṣa ) in whose various parts the main deity, auxiliary deities, and temple guardians resided. The vastumaṇḍala is often closely connected with the actual design of the building and assures the builder of the presence of the gods.
Square forms, in contrast to the circular plans of Hindu and Jain cosmology, are also the basis for Hindu maṇḍala s used in Pāñcarātra (Vaiṣṇava Tantra) as well as Śaiva and Śākta Tantric rituals. The most elaborate designs to appear in the Pāñcarātra ritual are described in the Lakṣmī Tantra (c. tenth century ce), which contains a whole chapter on maṇḍala construction, and in the earlier Jayākhya Saṃhitā.
These texts prescribe at the beginning of the worship the construction of a square, which is divided into 256 small squares. The 16 small squares at the center and 8 squares of identical size at the margins are filled with one lotus each. The great square has gates and is surrounded by śobhās (ramparts; literally, "ornaments") and koṇas ("corners"). This maṇḍala is called Navapadma Maṇḍala ("maṇḍala of nine lotuses." The texts state that no matter whether the deity is worshiped in an image, in a pitcher, or under any other circumstances, the worshiper should always "recall to his mind the nine lotuses" of the maṇḍala, "which contains the whole world and is the exalted home of all gods, which encompasses all [other] loci and is the paramount abode" (Lakṣmī Tantra 37.22, 37.25). The Pañcarātrins also used a Cakrābja Maṇḍala ("maṇḍala having a lotus circle"), in which a large lotus fills the entire great square. A third form, the Navanābha Maṇḍala ("maṇḍala of the nine navels") has the great square divided into nine smaller squares, in each of which is a seat (bimba ) for one of the nine manifestations of Lakṣmī (i.e., Vāsudeva, Saṃkarṣaṇa, Pradyumna, Aniruddha, Nārāyaṇa, Virāṭt, Viṣṇu, Narasiṃha, and Varāha).
In several North Indian Tantric Śaiva and Śākta texts, maṇḍala worship is mentioned along with the dīkṣā ("initiation") ceremony, (e.g., Prapañcasāra Tantra 5.36–70). The similarities in preparation and designs with those of the Pāñcarātrins is striking: in both traditions a pavilion must be erected over the prepared ground on which the maṇḍala is to be constructed. Of four maṇḍala s, mentioned in Tantric texts, the first, called Sarvatobhadra Maṇḍala ("maṇḍala that is auspicious on every side"), is identical with the Navapadma Maṇḍala; the second is only its smaller variant. The third, the Navanabha Maṇḍala, is identical in form with the maṇḍala of the same name of the Pāñcarātrins, but instead of the nine seats for deities it has five lotuses and four svāstikas. The fourth maṇḍala is identical with the third but has only five lotuses and no svāstikas. Therefore, it is called Pañcābja Maṇḍala ("maṇḍala of five lotuses"). During the initiation ceremony among the Pāñcarātrins and among Tantrics, the blindfolded adept is led to the maṇḍala and throws flowers upon it. The deity on whose seat the flowers fall will provide him with a name or will become his special object of worship.
In their daily and thus more private rituals, Tantrics of all denominations start the ritual with the drawing of geometrical designs in vermilion or red sandalwood paste on a purified surface. For the devotee, these diagrams are a source of cosmic power and the place on which the deity dwells during the ritual. Although such diagrams are also often called maṇḍala s and their function of providing a proper abode for the deity is the same as in the dīkṣā rituals, it has become customary to call the simpler designs for daily worship yantras, and to reserve the term maṇḍala for the larger ones in public ceremonies where the whole cosmos has to be present.
Hindu maṇḍala s have attracted the curiosity of modern symbolists and psychoanalysts such as Mircea Eliade and C. G. Jung. However, as their interpretations are not always based on the evidence of the available texts, the explanatory value of these studies is limited. A definitive history of the geometric designs used in Hindu rituals has yet to be written.
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