The men also lay out the ribbed, cylindrical tubes and the pencil-like wands they rub across those tubes to coax the sand into place.
On Tuesday, the monks worked in silent teams; two at a time, then four at a time, bent and kneeling in place for minutes at a time. Their chins are inches away from the table, tubes of sand poised in an upturned hand while the other hand rapidly works to force the grains of sand into their precise places.
As they work, the sound rises like the noise of cicadas, building in intensity, reaching a peak then dropping to a gentle rattle. It has a uniform cadence, yet each individual tube makes a sound all its own.
“You can close your eyes and feel like you’re in the woods,” Locarro said.
As the monks work people trickle in to watch, one or two at a time. Some stay a few minutes; others stand and watch for long periods, moving from one side of the table to the other to follow the intricate process.
A mandela, according to Tibetan tradition, is a symbol of the universe in its ideal form. The sand painting is one of many activities at ECU this week intended to raise awareness of Tibetan civilization, focus attention on world peace and raise support for the Tibetan refugee community in India.
Each day the monks add millions of grains of sand to it. On Friday, a ceremony at Mendenhall will mark the completion, followed by a procession to the Greenville Town Common. There, the mandela sand will be dispersed into the Tar River as a sacred blessing.
Locarro, who was making her first visit to ECU’s campus, said she found this week’s events educational and an opportunity for self-reflection. The sacred music dance performed by the monks on campus Monday was particularly intriguing, she said. It blended drums, traditional horns and chants in rhythms that rise and fall.
“It was very moving, very inspirational,” she said. “You could feel the vibration and energy that was going through you.”
The monks have created mandela sand paintings in more than 100 museums, art centers and universities in the United States and Europe.
By Mary Schulken
ECU News Services