New York, Dec. 18--(AP) Working on their hands and knees for several hours, Tibetan monks funneled finely ground and brightly colored grains of sand into an elaborate three-dimensional painting. Grain-by-grain, they are creating a traditional mandala sand-painting in the atrium of the Smithsonian Institute's Museum of the Native American, just blocks from the World Trade Center site.

The 20 monks hope their work can provide a spiritual salve to those who have suffered from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "His holiness, the Dalai Lama, told the Tibetan community to do all they could to help people in this time of tragedy,'' said Geshe Lobsang Tenzin, a U.S. representative of the Drepung Loseling Monastery. "So we decided to share this art form we have had for centuries with Americans in order to help them heal.''

Tibetans believe mandalas are a three-dimensional visual representation of the world in perfect harmony. Mandalas are common enough, painted on scrolls or on fabric, or drawn in sand. But in this case the monks chose a rarely used form--the mandala of the deity Yamantaka--whose name roughly translates as "the opponent of death.'' "This is one of the highest deities in Tantric Buddhism and is invoked only for transforming intense negativities such as the one New York has seen,'' Tenzin explained.

Groups of monks often come to the United States from the monastery in the southern Indian province of Karnataka to perform religious rituals and create sand-paintings to raise awareness of Tibetan culture. "But because of the nature of these events and the enormity of this tragedy and the enormity of the healing, we wanted to do a special one and take some more time with it,'' said Tenzin.

The monks began their work Dec. 11. They gather each morning for an hour of meditation and prayer before they begin the painstaking work, starting in the center of the 7-by-7-foot (2-by2-meter) design, and working their way out. Last week, the monks visited the trade center site, where they performed a cleansing ritual and prayed, their bright saffron-colored robes striking a contrast against the backdrop of concrete and twisted steel. "The sight of it really placed a weight on our hearts,'' Tenzin said.

The monks plan to finish the painting by Sunday, and then, in accordance with custom, they will sweep up the sand and put it in the nearest flowing body of water--in this case the Hudson River, "where it can then bring the blessing to many people,'' Tenzin explained.

On Jan. 11, the monks will begin work on a second mandala at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., to help to those who suffered when terrorists crashed an airplane into the Pentagon.

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