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Monday, May 11, 2015

'Nothing is permanent' philosophy of Drepung Monastery

Tibet, the remote and mainly-Buddhist territory known as the "roof of the world", is governed as an autonomous region of China.  Beijing claims a centuries-old sovereignty over the Himalayan region. But the allegiances of many Tibetans lie with the exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, seen by his followers as a living god, but by China as a separatist threat.  Reports suggest that  China severely restricts access to foreign journalists entering Tibet, and imposes a reign of terror to silence Tibetans within Tibet. Despite this, Tibetans have bravely protested against dams and mining at great risk, with a number killed, injured or locked away for long prison terms.

China’s top official in Tibet recently  vowed  to evaluate Buddhist monks and nuns for their “patriotism” and install national flags in monasteries to strengthen ideological control in the region.  The ruling Communist party will deepen “assessment activities” to ensure “model harmonious monasteries” as well as “patriotic, law-abiding monks and nuns”, the region’s party chief Chen Quanguo wrote in the People’s Daily newspaper. It was not clear on what grounds the assessments would be made. China often uses terms such as “patriotic” and “harmonious” to mean allegiance to political authorities.

Drepung Monastery (literally “Rice Heap” monastery), located at the foot of Mount Gephel, is one of the "great three" Gelukpa university monasteries of Tibet. The other two are Ganden and Sera. Drepung is the largest of all Tibetan monasteries and is located on the Gambo Utse mountain, five kilometers from the western suburb of Lhasa.  Freddie Spencer Chapman reported, after his 1936-37 trip to Tibet, that Drepung was at that time the largest monastery in the world, and housed 7,700 monks, "but sometimes as many as 10,000 monks."  All these three monasteries have been subjected to control by Chinese and have been re-established in exile in Karnataka. 

“Kolam” is a form of drawing, drawn using rice flour and natural/synthetic coloured powders.  It may oe line drawings with curved loops and the like drawn around a grid  pattern of dots.  There are complex ones representing divine picturines and other forms like Rangoli.  It often is the reflection of painstaking efforts of one or a group of people.  Many a times Kolam competitions are conducted and some males too get the prize !  Kolams are regularly drawn in Maada veethis before the procession of deities ~  the month of Margazhi is special as people would put kolams in front of their houses, early in the morning welcoming the Sun rise.  In April 2014, there was this interesting article on Tibetan monks spending 30 hours  building intricate artworks with millions of grains of sand - then brush them away to teach followers nothing lasts forever ! 

The group  calling themselves ‘The Mystical Arts of Tibet’ are group  of travelling monks  from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in India.  They use millions of grains of rice to create their artworks. Their work has received praise from the likes of the Dalai Lama and Richard Gere..... surprisingly the stunning artwork made by intricate spread of  millions of grains of sand made by hours of painstaking work, is only swept away immediately after that  !!

The series of mandala artworks take a group of ten monks up to 30 hours to complete.  They use millions of colourful grains of sand only to brush them away once complete to promote the understanding nothing lasts forever.  Each of the monks' sand-painted works begins with a drawing process.  The coloured sand is then poured from traditional metal funnels, called chak-purs. This technique takes a long time to perfect, as the monks not only need to have a great deal of patience, but also need to learn the correct breathing technique so they have optimum control over the chak-purs.  The monks hold the chak-purs in one hand, running the metal rod across a grated surface, which creates a vibration to make the sand flow.  For doing this, first the artist monks must be initiated by qualified teachers and receive all the required empowerments.  

After that, one can learn the arts of pouring the sand, for which one has to learn the correct body postures and breathing.  Monks need to learn how to breathe gently and team works because all the monks have to work together with lots mindfulness and mutual understanding.  'One must have passion, dedication for arts and must know benefits and meaning of the arts. Then everything comes easily.

'Procedure is to sweep away after the completion, as it is a very important teaching of the process to learn the condition of all things, including our physical body and that everything comes with expiration date - nothing is going to last forever.' Gala Rinpoche, a spokesperson  said,  ‘People like the sand mandalas and we can sometimes see lots of emotion from viewers, especially when monks do the dismantling ceremony - that is the best opportunity for us to learn to let go’.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

15th Apr 2015.

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