The Magnificent Thangka – Labrang, 3/3a

I awoke slowly this morning, as people were in an out of my room through the wee hours last night. Celebrations at the community center went late, and from what I could tell, I was not welcome. OK with me, I needed to sort thru some of my stuff.

When I asked Samtso about the idea that I shouldn’t attend the festivities, she had a curious reply. “On TV, in the news, and in the movies, Tibetans are always shown as sweet, gentle, generous people. It is not true. Some of the villagers have very small hearts. They have lived their whole lives in this tiny village, and they are uneducated. They want everything for themselves. This is not just about outsiders, they do it to each other.” Sounds like the real world to me. Samtso went on to say that the value of education for these people is non existent. “They do not feel that education is nearly as important as fine jewelry.”

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The usual bustle of the morning is heightened today. We are going to town to see the giant Thangka. Everyone is dressing up for the event, even Padrun, the baby. Once arrayed, we all pile into the cab. Town is quite a spectacle. Thousands of Tibetans, most in traditional clothing, throng toward the the event, the human density intensifying as we get near the display.

Giant Thangka on hill near Labrang Monastery in Amdo

Giant Thangka on hill near Labrang Monastery in Amdo

I am unprepared for what I see. On the side of a mountain is a HUGE Thangka. I can only guess the size, but a hundred of feet by a hundred fifty feet is a conservative estimate. Made from fabric, many monks, each holding the edge, flap it so it billows into place. Then much to my astonishment, like all Thangkas, I see it has a covering. This massive amount of material is released into place with great effort to perfectly cover the art. Then the whole of it is rolled from the bottom, carefully lowering the top with the guidance of descending monks, into a humungous chimichanga of fabric, which is carried off to the monastery on the shoulders of the yellow-hatted cenobites, accompanied by guards on horseback, gloriously attired.

The formalities take less than an hour, and I am soon lost in the crowds, which means I cannot find Samtso.  It’s fine, as it turns out, with both of us. Just wondering around by myself provides a kind of freedom. My camera gives me permission to look, although it is not always welcome, like in some of the monastic courtyards. Also, some people are happy to be included in a picture, but many are not. Interestingly, the most beautifully arrayed are usually the ones who say “no”…accompanied by a look of disdain. I do not try to convince them. I really don’t care. That is not why I am here, to make images of beautiful Tibetans. I am much more interested in the ceremonies and the lives of my friends.

OK, not entirely true. I did steal a shot or two.  Every now and then. Sometimes. When I could…

Tibetans wear coral like the Navajo wear turquoise.

Tibetans wear coral like the Navajo wear turquoise.

 

This entry was posted in on the road, Pugdê, STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS (china 2015).

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