Making a sand mandala for our wedding
July 30, 2008 6:27 PM   Subscribe

We want to incorporate some sort of sand design into our wedding as an alternative to a unity candle. This would be sort of like a Tibetan sand mandala but nowhere near as complex. How the heck do we go about this?

We are not Tibetan Buddhists. This will not be a religious thing per se; we simply like the symbolism of intentionally and mindfully creating something together, mixing the colors of sand, and then sweeping it away to remind ourselves of the impermanence of life and that all we have is right now, this moment. There won't be any Buddhists at the wedding, Tibetan or otherwise, that might be offended at our co-opting of this ritual.

We are thinking of something that would be mostly completed ahead of time, since we're not going to spend hours doing it during the ceremony. We'd leave a part unfinished and complete it during the time you'd normally light a unity candle. We don't have a design in mind; I picked a butterfly theme for the wedding to symbolize transformation, so we might incorporate that. Other ideas are very welcome.

Where do we get colored sand? How are we going to transport the unfinished piece to the ceremony without destroying it? What should we sweep the finished piece into? Is this totally insane? This video is awesome but we're not that talented.
posted by desjardins to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: apparently it's traditional in Navajo culture as well.
posted by desjardins at 6:36 PM on July 30, 2008

Craft stores will generally have colored (albeit brightly, I'm not sure what colors you're looking for) sand, and, failing bags of sand, look into one of those Sand Art kits, which will undoubtedly have a variety of colors.

In addition, a search on yields 5 pound bags of many colors of sand.

I think getting a large glass bucket or mason jar (depending on how much sand you're using) to sweep it into at the end and hang onto as a keepsake would be cool, if you're into that sort of thing.
posted by alpha_betty at 7:14 PM on July 30, 2008

How about having different members of the wedding party, or of your families, pour different parts down into the design one by one at various parts of the ceremony? It could be fairly easy to get them to do a design you want; just draw some simple lines on paper and use something like a wide-tipped pastry bag or squeeze bottle (or even just a paper cone with the edge snipped off) that will control the sand flow in a simple way.
posted by Madamina at 7:37 PM on July 30, 2008

Please don't try to do a mandala. Vajrayana buddhism is a rich esoteric tradition, within which the drawing and contemplation of mandalas (symbolic representations of the buddhist cosmology) is one of the highest disciplines.

I think your idea of drawing something in the sand together and then destroying it as a symbolic gesture is great, but please, if you have any respect for spirituality at all (and it sounds like you might) then don't do a mandala. Not only would it be offensive to spiritual people in general, but it is also incredibly tacky to appropriate such an important piece of a tradition you really have no part in, and which has nothing to do with, and even contradicts the intent of your ceremony.

I hate to sound like a kook too, but like I said, Vajrayana is an esoteric form of buddhism in which wrathful spirits figure heavily, and the drawing of a mandala could be considered analogous to casting a spell. Trying to perform such a ritual without the proper context or training, nevermind wiping it out as meaninglessly impermanent, is not only disrespectful, but dare I say, dangerous.

I am not a buddhist, but I would certainly not want to start off a wedding on such inauspicious footing. Good luck finding something more appropriate.
posted by paradoxflow at 8:59 PM on July 30, 2008

I know something similar is done in Indian/South Asian culture. It's common to see sand art in homes in Diwali (a Hindu festival) and my cousin (we come from a Bangladeshi Muslim background) had sand art in front of her front door where they had a wedding party. So perhaps look there for research and inspiration. It's mainly artistic rather than devotional - at least, Muslims don't hold any sort of belief towards sand art.
posted by divabat at 10:40 PM on July 30, 2008

Paradox: They're not committing genocide, if they like the idea of whatever this thing is (I've never heard of it but it looked really beatiful from the pics) than who cares. I can't speak for the buddhist society but I don't see them getting too upset with someone appreciating aspects of their culture. Anyway, I found colored sand at this site and coming from the grandson of a buddhist you have my blessing.
posted by BrnP84 at 4:14 AM on July 31, 2008

I recently went to an outdoor wedding where a candle wasn't feasible due to the wind. The bride and groom approached what would have been the unity candle, but it was replaced with three vessels, two smaller ones containing sand (a different color for the bride and groom), and a larger vessel into which they simultaneously poured the sand.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:01 AM on July 31, 2008

Response by poster: paradoxflow - I completely respect your opinion. "Mandala" was a bad choice of words on my part. It will not look anything like that. With our combined (lack of) artistic ability, it will probably look like a kid's painting. I was simply inspired by the symbolism of impermanence; I wasn't attempting to step on the toes of Vajrayana practitioners or evoke deities. I understand it's of great significance to them. (FYI, great user name - my email is zenparadox2.)
posted by desjardins at 7:43 AM on July 31, 2008

My cousin and his wife had a beach wedding. My cousin and his wife got sand from their respective hometowns and put their sand in individual tall glass containers. They had an empty, larger glass container between the two with their sand. The containers were set on a table behind the minister. At the appropriate time, they both poured, at the same time, their sand into the larger container, mixing the sands together. It was very pretty and a great alternative to the unity candle, while still giving the same idea as the unity candle.
posted by TurquoiseZebra at 9:24 AM on July 31, 2008

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