The mandala idea originated long ago before the idea of history itself, in the earliest level of India or even Indo-European religion, in the Rig Veda and its associated literature. Mandala is the term for a chapter, a collection of mantras or verse hymns chanted in Vedic ceremonies, perhaps coming from the sense of round, as in a round of songs. The universe was believed to originate from these hymns, whose sacred sounds contained the genetic patterns of beings and things, so there is already a clear sense of mandala as world-model.
As an image, a mandala may symbolize both the mind and the body of the Buddha. In esoteric Buddhism the principle in the mandala is the presence of the Buddha in it, but images of deities are not necessary. They may be presented either as a wheel, a tree, or a jewel, or in any other symbolic manifestation.
The symbolism of meditation Mandalas has a rich tradition. The outer form of these so-called holy circles is a geometrical diagram, a Yantra, and each detail of its construction has symbolic meaning. The essence or purpose of the Mandala is concerned with the process of invocation, the calling in and realization of the spiritual force within the contemplator himself. All these different picture-tools have essentially the same inner meaning and purpose, but there are mandalas to suit all levels of consciousness: for the spiritually highly developed, for average people and for people not yet developed.
The mandala is the most admired and discussed symbol of Buddhist religion and art. A word which, like guru and yoga, has become part of the English language. Mandalas have become broadly defined as geometric designs intended to symbolize the universe, and reference is made to their use in Buddhist and Hindu practices.
The basic design of the mandala is found throughout history in most cultures.