Breaking down the concept of the mandala

In the ancient days, long before Nepal was mapped in the world, the Kathmandu Valley was known as Nepal Mandala. One of the verifications for this is a Gyaneshwar inscription that dates back to the reign of Jayadeva Malla in the 13th century that mentions the Kathmandu Valley as a mandala. It is also believed that the valley is in the form of Cakrasamvara–the most important Buddhist esoteric deity that is surrounded by the sites of eight Bodhisattvas.

Over time, the presence of mandalas in the Kathmandu Valley spread–especially in the Buddhist community. Even Pancha Buddha, the five celestial Buddhas which is represented widely in mandalas, are omnipresent in the valley. With changing times, mandalas have now morphed into commercial business products and its prints can be seen in paubhas, thangkas, even t-shirts. But, what is a mandala and what do they signify?