The Realm of the Divine: Three MaNDalas from the NiSpannayogAvalI
As to the origin of maNDala use in India one may only speculate, though according to E. Dale Saunders maNDala-like constructions have been in existence since the Vedic period.1 According to Peter Gaeffke, however, it is in the tantric texts that one finds the first recorded descriptions of maNDalas.2 Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any consensus among scholars as to the time of the appearance of the first tantric text(s). Most would agree, however, that tantric texts began to surface sometime between the third and sixth century C.E.
Within general Sanskrit usage the term maNDala means “circle” and, as such, is generally meant to invoke the idea of a self-contained or enclosed area. Within the context of tantric literature, however, the term maNDala generally refers to a sacred area. In most cases, this area is separated from “profane” space by a number of concentric circles. Not all maNDalas are circular, however. In many cases, other geometric forms (e.g., squares, rectangles, and triangles) are utilized to mark the maNDala’s perimeter. Furthermore, this area is usually occupied by a central deity and a number of secondary deities that radiate outwards from the maNDala’s center. While these deities often appear within the maNDala in their physical form(s), there are many instances were the presence of the deities and their powers are depicted within the maNDala symbolically.
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