From above, it did not look like sand. It looked like painting on silk. Incredibly vivid jewellike color. Incredibly intricate detail.
Up close, it was even more amazing - far from being streams of sand, it was created with individual grains of sand. Of course it was, you say. No, really. It was incredibly textured, little crennelations of white sand separating blue from green, raised black swirls like tribal tattoos.
Over the course of a week, we watched as the mandala expanded outward - eight hours a day of red-robed monks tapping, scraping, sand out of narrow metal horns, working gracefully, precisely. Until it filled the table.
Elayna said that it looked like it belonged in a museum.
At one o'clock today, the monks began to chant.
This was a fifteen-minute ceremony. I brought Elayna into the crowd, got her up to the front so she would watch closely...
(You can always tell a mother in the crowd; instead of watching the monks, enthralled - she watches her daughter watch the monks, enthralled.)
No cell phones went off. No one spoke. The only sound was that of chanting, deep and harmonic, filling the atrium, where dozens of people had stopped to just watch.
Ten minutes of chanting.
And one began to circle the table, ringing his bell... and placed his fingers at the corners and pushed inward, blending the vivid colors, creating a tiny mound of indeterminate color sparkling in the center of the table. Four times, as they chanted. Then four more.
He took a pinch of sand, placed it on his head, and replaced his hat; then he returned to the side of his fellow monks, and they finished chanting.
Silence in the atrium.
Another monk came forward and pushed the remains of the mandala into the center. Still precise. Sixteen light swoops, then sixteen heavier pushes, until all of the sand glittered in the middle; they filled tiny plastic bags with the sand, all of the beauty mixed together, and gave them out. For luck.
Elayna smiled and nodded and thanked him, and held it up to eye level, and said it was beautiful.