by Ice Pick Polly a.k.a. Courtney McKiel

In Tibet, there is an ancient ritual traditionally practiced by Buddhist monks called Dul-Tson-Kyil-Khor or “Mandala of coloured powder,” more commonly known to the Western world as Sand Mandala Art.

It encompasses the process of creation, a period of observation and the process of destruction using different coloured sand, masterfully arranged in an intricate pattern. A group of monks will spend weeks constructing a 5’x5′ design out of varying colours of sand.

The cyclical nature and logistical development of the Snow Castle at Snowking’s Winter Festival can be compared with the ancient ritual traditionally practiced by Buddhist monks called Sand Mandala Art, writes columnist Ice Pick Polly this week. photo courtesy of Courtney McKiel

The construction of a sand mandala requires the acute concentration of each individual and the total cooperation of the collective to complete the creation phase of the ritual. Once the design has been achieved, there is a period of observation, where the public is invited to view the result of the monks’ laborious efforts.

Then there is the phase of destruction, where the monks dismantle the mandala, gifting handfuls of sand to observers of the closing ceremony and depositing the remnants in the nearest living stream, to bless all of the Earth.

This practice is directly comparable to the cyclical nature and logistical development of the Snow Castle at Snowking’s Winter Festival. The build crew works six hours per day, seven days per week starting New Year’s Day of each year, while the carving crew joins in at the start of February working straight through to the beginning of March.

Volunteers fluctuate throughout the build season, giving eager and inquisitive folk the opportunity to get a taste of the castle as it grows. The doors of the castle open at the beginning of March, marking the beginning of that year’s Snowking’s Winter Festival, where all are welcome to come down to experience the Snow Castle and all that it has to offer.

The festival lasts the month of March, hosting a range of events, geared towards children and adults alike. With the end of March, comes the end of the festival which means castle tear down. All non-organic material is reclaimed and stored for the next 10 months while the snow and ice structures are left to merge back with the deepest lake of North America.

As a member of the crew, there are two very tangible moments during this process. They are both equally humbling and awe-inspiring. One is the day before the castle opens, when the final touches are being strewn upon a pearly white canvas. Completion. Accomplishment. Satisfaction. Pride. The second is the day after the closing of the festival, bearing witness to a time “well spent.”

Like a ratty old pair of boots, carrying thousands of stories. Each year’s Snow Castle goes down like a time capsule, taking with it the reaction of every single spectator fortunate enough to see something as glorious as a castle composed of snow perched on a frozen lake in Canada’s far North.

Both instances illicit the same range of emotions which ultimately reflect the same concept … impermanence.

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