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Posts Tagged ‘himalayan’

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Image: Green Tara Protectress from Eight Fears; Tibet; 19th century; Pigments on Cloth; Rubin Museum of Art; Gift of Shelley and Donald Rubin. The Eight Fears are 1) water, (2) lions, (3) fire, (4) snakes, (5) elephants, (6) thieves, (7) false imprisonment and (8) ghosts.

When I was in New York this week visiting my sister, she suggested we go to the Rubin Museum on West 17th St. She told me that the museum, which opened in 2004, was notable not only for the founders’ Himalayan art collection but for its peaceful aura.

It really was a treat. Here’s what the website says about the current exhibit. “Gateway to Himalayan Art introduces visitors to the main forms, concepts, and meanings of Himalayan art represented in our collection. A large multimedia map orients the visitors and highlights cultural regions of a diverse Himalayan cultural sphere that includes parts of present day India, China, Nepal, Bhutan, and Mongolia. …

“In addition to sculptures and paintings, objects such as a stupa, prayer wheel, and ritual implements demonstrate that their patrons sought the accumulation of merit and hoped for wealth, long life, and spiritual gains, all to be fulfilled through the ritual use of these objects and commissioning works of art.

“Among the featured installations are a display that explains the process of Nepalese lost-wax metal casting and a presentation of the stages of Tibetan hanging scroll painting (thangka).”

At the base of the museum’s circular stair we encountered male and female lions with fire (I think) flaming from their mouths.

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There was also an interactive table on which we were bidden to type our “intentions” (for the visit or perhaps for our lives). When we hit “enter,” our phrases whooshed up toward the ceiling, joining the flow of little star-like lights and other visitors’ “intentions” on the underside of the spiraling stairs. I typed “find light in shadow,” and my sister typed “experience peace.”

From the impressive collection we learned about the interconnection of Buddhist and Hindu culture and imagery. Among the highlights was a recreated Tibetan shrine where butter lamps were burning and visitors were enveloped in the deep, deep voices of monks chanting.

021419-Tibetan-shrine-at the-Rubin

There were also two excellent art recreations, one showing how artisans make a sculpture (the museum hired contemporary artists in Nepal to create the different stages of the process to be displayed in a glass cabinet) and the other demonstrating the steps for making a painted cloth hanging, a thangka. At first my sister was puzzled by the hanging’s label because it said “2014,” and all the other labels had ancient dates!

She, in turn, showed me an amazing thing that I had passed right by. It was a kind of virtual-reality video of what the houses of the Buddhist gods might look like, but the most amazing part came when the video swooped in on an aerial view. By George, a mandala! A mandala can be an aerial view of the houses of the gods. Probably other people know that, but I didn’t.

Here is a mandala that Melita showed me in process at MIT a few years ago. Colored sand was painstakingly dripped on a floor space by a visiting monk.

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Photo: Jeffrey Gettleman/The New York Times
Customers browsing through books in Thimphu, Bhutan. Literacy is growing in the isolated Himalayan country.

Bhutan is a small Himalayan country best known for its focus on Gross National Happiness. I know two other things about it, and they are contradictory. One is that the Hindu Nepalese ethnic minority gets so little happiness there that many end up in refugee camps in India for decades.

But the other thing I know is that Suzanne found Bhutan to be a magical place when she traveled there after her time as vice president of Red Envelope and just before founding Luna & Stella. A Buddhist monk in Bhutan even provided her with a name for her first-born. (She translated it into Swedish and used it as a middle name.)

Nations are complicated.

Here is a recent article I liked about Bhutan’s growing literary culture. It’s by Jeffrey Gettleman at the New York Times. “Not long ago, when Bhutan’s government tried to enroll children in school,” he writes, “parents hid them in the attic and bribed government agents with butter and cheese to go away. Families needed their children as field hands. The last thing they cared about were books.

“But … literacy is taking root across these deep green mountain valleys — it’s now around 60 percent, compared to 3 percent in the 1950s — giving rise to a surprising underdog literary scene.

“The number of bookshops is increasing; there are around a dozen in the capital, Thimphu, and a few more in far-flung districts. Bhutanese writers are publishing books more than ever before — fantasy novels, poetry, short story collections and especially folklore. Each August, Bhutan hosts an international literary festival. …

“It’s a delicate dance of letting in outsiders without getting steamrollered. Historically, Bhutan has sealed itself off, a Shangri-La nestled in the highest, snow-capped mountain range in the world. Before the 1960s, few foreigners set foot here; it was only in 1999 that television was allowed in. …

“This new generation of Bhutanese writers and novelists see themselves as occupying a special role: as guardians of their nation’s culture. Many are relatively young, in their 30s and 40s, and love to reminisce about growing up in villages without radios or TVs or even roads, wearing traditional clothes and eating traditional foods (such as hard cubes of yak cheese the size of Starburst candies). They feel an urgency to write about the old ways deep in the mountain villages before that lifestyle totally disappears.

“ ‘Create?’ asked Tshering Tashi, a writer, journalist, tour guide and co-director of the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival. ‘That’s a luxury. Our foremost job is to record.’ …

“Mr. Tashi, 45, is determined to track down the last of the traditional shamans and spiritual hermits — the custodians of Bhutanese legends — and write their stories, not his, before they take them to the grave. On one mission, he hiked two weeks into the mountains where no roads reach; he finally found his target, an old hermit who had been living by himself for 70 years. …

“Gopilal Acharya, 40, is a poet with dark eyes, a natty beard, crisp plaid shirts and a slightly coiled vibe. He writes in English, like most Bhutanese writers, because that is what he studied in school. (Several indigenous languages are spoken in Bhutan but relatively few books are printed in them.) …

“Mr. Acharya is passionate about Bhutanese folklore. He wrote a book of children’s tales that celebrate a way of life rooted in isolated hamlets where even today, on windswept mountainsides, people till fields of buckwheat with yoked oxen and wooden plows.

“ ‘These stories are how we are anchored as a society,’ he said. ‘We don’t have military or economic power. Our culture is all we have.’ ” More here.

For yet another angle on Bhutan, check out this Washington Post article on why some residents hate the nasty politics of their new democracy so much, they are pining for the old days — and the “absolute monarchy under a beloved king.”

 

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You have heard of “slow food” and perhaps “slow money” (a loan with a long time to pay back) and other efforts designed to help us reduce the often meaningless haste of modern life. Well, Cousin Claire has been posting news on Facebook about another slow movement that is sure to intrigue you, Slow Textiles.

Says Slow Fiber Studios on its About page, “We are founded on a simple intention: to offer real-world insight into the multifaceted and holistic practice of textile-making. Slow Fiber Studios™ offers dynamic, hands-on field study programs in diverse areas of the world where textile culture runs deep — India, Mexico, Japan, France, Italy, and on. We believe the best way to understand a philosophy is to see it being lived.”

Here is a description of a 2012 offering: “Special opportunity to travel throughout India with Yoshiko, who has been exploring this country for over 30 years (lived in Ahmedabad in 1983/84 on an Education & Culture Fellowship and frequent 3-month residencies spanning 3 decades). Yoshiko will introduce her friends in India who are involved in welfare, community empowerment, and cultural sustainability projects.

“Tour Highlights: natural dyes, organic cotton cultivation, handloom weaving, khadi, biodynamic farming, architecture, local food and religion, contemporary art and design educational institutions, museums, solar energy development, hand spinning and weaving wild silks and Tibetan wool in Himalayan communities.” More here.

How well I remember the wistful feeling I got in reading the book Lark Rise to Candleford when the beautiful handmade lace was spurned as soon as the factory-made came in. There is something to be said for speed and efficiency, but also something to be said for craft.

Photos: Slow  Fiber Studios

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