‘We live not by the jingling of our coins, but by the fullness of our harvests.’
The great Scottish biologist Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) described the world as a vast leaf colony, both growing on and forming a leafy soil. It is, he said, ‘by leaves we live.’ Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning both ‘circle’ and ‘centre’; mandala shapes may be seen all around us in the natural world – in tree rings, flower heads, spiders’ webs, shells, snowflakes.
They represent the universe – the visible world outside us (the circle) and the invisible one deep within us (the centre.) Both Buddhism and Hinduism use mandalas as spiritual tools and aids to meditation. They traditionally consist of colourful geometric patterns and symbols organised around a unifying centre; Buddhist monks have to undertake long training before they can create a mandala, which they often make from sand – this can then be brushed away as a representation of the impermanence of life.
This week at the Botanics Therese Muskus, artist Karen Shewan and her husband Mel have created a mandala from autumn leaves, berries, fruits, dried flowers, seed heads and pine cones – the abundant and colourful plant material that nature offers as the seasons change. Therese, Karen and Mel worked hard all day in Monday’s dreich weather; despite the rain, they were the first people into the gardens in the morning and the last to leave in the evening. Their efforts have certainly paid off – the mandala is stunning, with an outer circle of bark and leaves enclosing a star, each point of which is filled with meticulous arrangements of red, yellow, green, blue, orange and pink fruits, vegetables and flowers. They hope that people will spend a few moments reflecting on and enjoying the beauty of the colours, shapes and patterns, saying; ‘In our troubled and over-exploited world the mandala is a symbol to remind us of our dependence on the earth’s trees and plants, and the need to protect them.’
Also on display is a cloak that Therese (who runs a croft and holiday homes at Laikenbuie in Morayshire) has embroidered with a mandala, and photographs of one that she, Karen and Mel made on Nairn beach from the things they found there. Children and adults are invited to have a go at creating their own mini-mandala; materials are provided.
The mandala will remain in place at least until the end of this week and is free to visit; it can be found alongside the outer path that runs parallel to Inverleith Terrace – it’s easy to spot, but you can also ask staff in Reception for directions.
(Photos of mandela-making at Nairn beach courtesy of Karen and Mel Shewan. You can also see some examples of Karen’s beautiful paintings on her Facebook page here.)