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Home >> Painting Media >> Sand Painting

Sand Painting

Sand Painting is an ancient ritualistic art form, which is sometimes a part of healing ceremonies. Sandpainting is practiced by Native Americans in the Southwestern United States, by Tibetan monks, by Australian Aborigines, and some are known to be made by Latin Americans on certain Christian holy days.

In India Sand Painting is known as Rangoli, and in this art form traditional motifs are drawn in front of homes.

Native American Sand Painting

The Native Americans tribes of Navajos practice the ritual of Sand Painting. The Medicine Man of the tribe paints patterns loosely upon the ground. He lets colored sands flow through his fingers with control and skill and voila - a beautiful sand painting is ready. On some occasions these paintings are made on a buckskin or cloth tarp.

The colors of Native american Sand Painting are usually made with naturally colored sand, crushed gypsum (white), yellow ochre, red sandstone, charcoal, and a mixture of charcoal and gypsum (blue). Brown is made by mixing red and black; red and white make pink. Other coloring agents include corn meal, flower pollen, or powdered roots and bark.

These paintings have great religious significance, and since they are sacred they are made and destroyed within 12 hrs.

The figures depicted in these paintings are Navajo spiritual beings, and they are called yei. These paintings are created to invoke the spirituals beings. The painting ritual is generally accompanied with rhythmic chants of the medicine men.

Tibetan Sand Painting or Mandala Sand Painting

This Painting style is a part of Tibetan Tantric Art tradition. The Tibetans call it dul-tson-kyil-khor , which literally means "mandala of colored powders." Millions of grains of sand are painstakingly laid into place on a flat platform over a period of days or weeks. The heartbreaking part of this ritual is that after days of determined hard work and perseverance the very monks who work on these paintings have to destroy them.

The beginning of mandala sand painting is an auspicious occasion which is marked by a ceremonial ritual. In this opening ceremony the lamas, or Tibetan priests, gather in front of the painting the site and call forth the supreme power of goodness. This is done by the means of chanting, music, and mantra recitation.

In the first day of the painting process the outline of the painting is drawn on a wooden board. In the consequent days the outlines are layersed with different colored sands. The sand is poured from a metal funnel called chak-pur . This funnel is an important part of the tradition too. The monks involved in the apintings hold a funnel in their hand and run a metal rod on its surface. The vibrations caused by the metal rod makes the sand flow like water from the funnel mouth.

These paintings follow the prescribed Mandala motifs. A Mandala is a symbolic geometric pattern, which is a metaphysical or symbolical representation of the cosmos, a microcosm of the universe from the human perspective. The center of the Mandala can be used as the focal point of meditation. In fact the complex but symmetric web of structures around the center draws one's eyes towards the focal point.


Two Sanskrit words, rang (colour) and aavalli ('creepers') combine to create the beatutiful term rangoli which litreally means “colored creepers”. It is probabaly the most popular art form in India and is practises in almost every household. It is known by different names in different part of the country- alapana in Bengal, Aripana in Bihar, Chowkpurana in uttar Pradesh, Kolam in Kerala and mugguin Andhra Prades. However in the north it is generally in the form of wet flooer paintings while in the south it's a dry powder painting.

The impermanent nature of these paintings is a metaphor for maya(deceptive nature of life).

All these different forms of Sand Painting in different parts of the world have a lot in common- the sacred nature of them, the impermanence, spiritual motifs and the rituals involved. Yet they are as distinctive as possible. Which just goes on to prove that each artistic expression is unique.

Today sand paintings are finally getting the attention and veneration that they deserve.

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