It's been more than four years since the Tibetan Buddhist monks of Drepung Loseling Monastery created one of their iconic, brightly colored sand mandala paintings at the Jepson Center.
They are now returning, and according to Harry DeLorme, senior curator of education at the Telfair, "It's an amazing event, and if folks haven't seen it before, then they should check it out."
Click here to view past photos of the Tibetan monks at the Jepson Center
Mandalas have their roots in the tantric legacy of Buddhist India, extending back some 2,500 years, and they are used as tools for blessing the Earth and healing its inhabitants.
"Thankfully, the city has sponsored the event, so it is free and open to the public," DeLorme said. "The monks set up in the atrium so people can see what they are doing outside the building, too. There will also be chairs set up for folks to come in and watch."
DeLorme said there are several key events the public will want to see during the monks' residency at the Jespon Center, and the public is welcome to come and view the monks' work during normal museum hours.
He added that the monks will take a break during normal lunch hours, and professional photography is not allowed at the museum.
At 5 p.m. Sept. 23, the opening ceremony will kick off at the Jespon Center.
"(The monks) will perform the opening ceremony with chants. That part will last 30 to 45 minutes," DeLorme said.
"Then they begin drawing lines on the table for the mandala, and people are welcome to stay and watch that."
The architectural lines are drawn on the table using a straight-edged ruler, compass and white pencil.
The monks create different types of mandalas, he said.
"The mandalas are created for a specific purpose," he said. "This particular mandala will be the Medicine Buddha that is focused on healing."
Once the diagram is laid out, the monks begin creating the sand mandala painting by gently tapping out small bits of colored sand on a flat surface, working in a ritualistic manner for almost a week to create a perfect mandala.
It's been described as a painstakingly slow process.
Once complete, the monks ceremonially destroy the mandala and distribute the sand among onlookers, placing the remaining grains into the river.
The monks, whose monastery was re-established in exile in south India, will lead a free lecture about the symbolism of the sand mandala at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 26.
"Usually, the head lama with the group is the spokesperson, and he gives a lecture and answers questions," DeLorme said.
The closing ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. Sept. 29.
"Essentially, what happens at end of residency is the monks perform more chants and ritually destroy the mandala," DeLorme said. "They give some of the sand to anyone in the audience who wants some.
"When they finish that, they begin the procession of walking the remaining sand down to the Savannah River, where they release the sand into the river.
"Everyone goes on foot and the public can walk along. We have a police escort to close the streets. It usually takes about 15 minutes," he said.
The monks believe the healing energy of the mandala is spread out when it is destroyed, DeLorme said.
"The destruction on the mandala is about reflection and distributing the healing aspects of the mandala to all those in attendance.
"Putting the sand into the river is symbolic of allowing the healing properties to flow out into the world. The energies of the mandala are distributed to those who participated and throughout the world," DeLorme said.
"It's interesting to watch the progress each day, and the ceremonies are great. The chanting is really amazing and they have these 10-foot long horns that they play - it's really very beautiful and transcendent," he said.
The museum will also offer special sand painting activities for children and families at the Jepson Center from 10 a.m. to noon Sept. 26 and from 1-3 p.m. Sept. 28.
These events are also free and open to the public.
"This is one of the most requested events we do at the museum," DeLorme said.
"I think the reason so many people enjoy it is because it works on different levels for different people. Some enjoy the beauty of the art, and some enjoy it for the spiritual and symbolic aspects of it.
"It's really exciting to be doing the event again."