Chances are if you’ve been perusing travel or tattoo Instagram recently, you’ve seen Mandala tattoos. Beautiful, lotus flower-like designs tattooed on beautiful blonde girls clad in bikinis on the beaches in Bali.
With their equally delicate and intricate design, mandalas appeal to a broad audience. They go against the typical idea of a ‘prison’ tattoo with block letters or bright colors. With their recent increase in popularity, many have become curious about the mandala tattoo. Where did the design come from? What does it mean? And, most importantly, is it okay to get a mandala tattoo?
History of Mandala Tattoos
While mandalas are most often associated with Hindu and Buddhist traditions, they can actually be found throughout history in almost every corner of the globe. Everyone from the ancient Egyptians to Native American tribes to the historic Christian churches in Europe used mandalas.
In Sanskrit, a South Asian language, the word mandala means circle, and this meaning fits perfectly with how the mandala was originally used. Mandalas were used as a form of meditation with the circular nature representing the divinity and perfection of the universe and/or God. As the mandala was being created, the devotee would meditate on every line drawn, symbolizing the transformation of oneself into a higher level of consciousness.
One fascinating story from the Buddhist tradition that helps you understand the mandala’s purpose is that of the lotus flower. It is not hard to spot the similarities between the typical designs of the mandala and the lotus flower, and that is not by accident. The lotus flower is native to Southern Asia, where Hinduism and Buddhism originated. The lotus begins growing under the water and slowly grows upwards toward the light until it breaks the water’s surface. This symbolizes the quest for enlightenment, seeking to break through the “veil” of the water.
Mandala Tattoo Meaning
Mandala tattoos have been around for centuries and are associated with Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. Each religion uses a variation in the meaning of mandalas, but generally they represent a spiritual journey and transformation that a person goes through.
Mandalas have become popular tattoo designs ever for people who don’t associate them with a particular religion. The geometric design and resemblance of a flower makes is a popular choice for many as well.
Mandala Tattoo Variations
While all mandalas are based on a circle, many different designs can be incorporated into them, each coming with its own meaning. Also, depending on how the mandala is made, that can affect the significance behind the mandala.
The lotus mandala is one of the most recognizable mandala designs, and it is the type that is most often used in tattoos. It is intended to resemble the 1,000 petal lotus which is native to areas where Hinduism and Buddhism are prominent. They are most often seen as 3D metal sculptures and will sometimes open to reveal a figure of Buddha or some other deity. The lotus mandala is meant to symbolize rising from the mortal, material world and achieving enlightenment.
The mantra mandala is hardly ever seen in tattoo form but has great significance for many devotees of Hinduism and Buddhism. In a mantra mandala a figure is drawn in the center of the mandala, typically Buddha or a Hindu God, and it is surrounded by a mantra repeating over and over again. This type of mandala is used for meditation as the devotee chants the mantra they will gaze upon and medidate on the meaning of the mandala and the mantra it features.
Another commonly seen mandala design that is used for tattoos is a geometric mandala. Instead of featuring figures or mantras, they feature different shapes and colors all spiraling outward in a symmetrical pattern. Every color and shape has a meaning allowing you to create a mandala that symbolizes your own personal journey. They are typically 2D images and are likely the first thing you think of when you picture a mandala.
One of the most intricate, difficult types of mandala to create is the sand mandala. These are created by Buddhist monks in their temples as a form of meditation. They use small cones of colorful sand to painstakingly create a pattern on the floor of the temple. Once they are done, they can meditate over the mandala or offer it up, then they brush it away which is meant to help them practice non-attachment and symbolize the understanding that nothing in this world is permanent.
Yin Yang Mandala
A common symbol that many do not realize is actually a mandala is the Yin Yang mandala. It is common in Chinese traditions, making it different from the other mandalas on the list. This just goes to represent that although mandalas are mainly associated with India and other areas in Southern Asia, that is not the only culture they are attached to. The Yin Yang mandala represents balance, its black and white pattern symbolizes the balance between the divine feminine and masculine and how each possesses the other. It is also represent the balance between good and evil, light and dark, fire and water, extroversion and introversion, etc.
There are two main ways that you can get a mandala tattoo, a side view, like is common with lotus mandalas, or an overhead view, which is more common with the classic geometric mandala. The style that you choose will greatly affect which locations will best suit your tattoo.
If you are going with a lotus style tattoo then anywhere that is centered on your body will be a great location because it will enhance the symmetry of the tattoo. For example, at the base of your neck is a great location because it is directly centered on your body. Another popular location is between the breasts although we do not recommend this for a couple reasons that I will discuss later.
If you are going with a geometric style mandala then chances are it is going to be done in the classic circle form. This style looks great on any rounded areas of your body. For example, I have seen mandala tattoos done on the top of the shoulder or the shoulder blade. These look great because there are no harsh lines and help to enhance the flow of the tattoo.
With this style some people also choose to do half mandalas, where the mandala is cut down the middle to create a half circle. This style works well if you want to place your tattoo in an area where there isn’t as much space or you want to create a harsher line.
How to Design a Mandala Tattoo?
Due to the intricacy of mandalas and the fact they must be symmetrical, it is not easy to design them by hand. It’s recommended that you or your tattoo artist design your image on a computer so a stencil can be easily created.
There is an app for iPhone users called Geometrica that has great reviews. It was created by a tattoo artist to help with the challenge of creating mandala tattoos. It does cost $10 a month to use the app, but is well worth it if you design a lot of mandalas.
If you are not interested in designing your own mandala tattoo, you can find free patterns online that your artist will be able to print onto a stencil. Sites like Pinterest, DeviantArt and Vecteezy all have free templates available for download.
How Much Do Mandala Tattoos Cost?
Like every tattoo, the cost of your mandala tattoo will vary greatly depending on which artist you use and where you are getting it done as well as the size and complexity of your tattoo. There’s no way to give a real price range especially since every mandala tattoo is customized for the person being tattooed. One thing that you can expect is that they will be slightly more expensive than the average tattoo of the same size because of the detail that goes into the line work.
Mandala Tattoos & Cultural Appropriation
Cultural Appropriation has become a commonly used phrase nowadays and now many are wondering when something is cultural appropriation and when it isn’t. This term is typically used when someone is using something that came from a different culture that they are not a part of. To understand if it’s okay, we must first understand what cultural appropriation is.
According to the Oxford Dictionaries, cultural appropriation is, “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”
A commonly used example of this phenomenon is when a white celebrity wears dreadlocks and is praised for it. This would not necessarily be an issue, after all, it is just a hairstyle, if African Americans, the culture from which dreadlocks originated, have not been discriminated against for wearing this very hairstyle for hundreds of years.
That is when it becomes cultural appropriation, when you, as a person of power and privilege, are able to use a hairstyle, symbol, clothing item and be praised for it while its original culture is shamed for the exact same thing.
Is getting a Mandala Tattoo Cultural Appropriation?
Ultimately, everyone is going to have a different opinion on this. However, I believe that, as long as you are respecting the symbol and what it represents, it is okay to get a Mandala tattoo.
Mandala tattoos, although most commonly seen in Hindu and Buddhist traditions, are not exclusively used in one culture. Mandala-like symbols have been found throughout history and all throughout the world, so you can truly not say that one culture has the right to them. However, what should be considered is how you are using the symbol and if you are using it with respect.
Mandalas are meant to symbolize meditation and the aspiration to reach a higher level of consciousness. So, if you are going to get one, consider not getting it in a “sexy” place, like between the breasts, or changing it so significantly that it mars the original meaning of the tattoo as this may disrespect what the symbol represents.