Hari Dawadi, the owner of the new Mandala Gallery on College Street, is clear about the most important aspect of his boutique store: Glancing around with some pride, he intones, “Everything here is handmade.”
At Mandala Gallery, handmade quality binds together a vast array of Nepalese, Tibetan and Indian objects and clothing. To get to the store proper, visitors must tread a ringing doormat and descend a staircase decorated with Buddhist wall hangings and contemporary Nepalese watercolors. At the bottom, a square room awaits, filled with gold-plated statuettes, knit hats, carpets, pashmina shawls, Nepalese jewelry and more.
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The most striking feature of the shop is its collection of gorgeous wall hangings. These hangings are composed of Buddhist “thanka” paintings mounted on bright brocade, with colored silk curtains gathered at the top (these curtains protect the hanging during storage or transport). The paintings are done on cotton squares; the most valuable ones are interlaced with 24 karat gold. Dawadi talks about the paintings’ significance, explaining that their purpose is purifying meditation. But art collectors also seek out thanka paintings.
“People who know — they buy these within a minute,” Dawadi says with pride.
When asked if business is good, Dawadi, whose other store is in Kathmandu, points out that Mandala Gallery is still new. It was only four weeks ago that he opened shop in New Haven, where his family also owns the restaurant Zaroka. He hopes the store will attract Yale students and parents, Dawadi’s target customers. And while the store’s most expensive artworks appeal to the collector’s pocketbook — one particularly beautiful thanka hanging goes for $1500 — there is much here for the student eye.
Glossy painted wood boxes ($11 and up) of all sizes populate one shelf; improbably beautiful elephants and turtles ($2 – $80), carved from wood or stone, house smaller versions of themselves within their latticed backs; racy plastic mousepads depict the Samantabhadra, the union of male and female; handmade sandals ($10) are a nice alternative to the ubiquitous ugly flip-flops; jewel-colored pashmina shawls hang in one corner, alongside gauzy scarves bearing henna-like patterns; and one section, of course, is devoted to the magnificent “singing bowls” ($50 – $300).
Singing bowls are made mostly of brass, and each one comes with a wooden wand swathed with leather at one end. Dawadi demonstrates to customers how to use, or play, a singing bowl. By drawing the wand gently around the outside rim, he makes the bowl vibrate with a strong, sweet hum.
“When you have a bad day or are tired, whenever you have any problems, you play it,” he explains, holding the bowl up. The sound is entrancing. “It helps you get happiness in life.”
It’s a big claim, but not untrue. The objects at Mandala Gallery, whether for utility or decoration or meditation, are small contributions to happiness in life.