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Monks from India visit Plattsburgh

 A Tsawa monk from India works on a sand mandala at the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts in Plattsburgh.

A Tsawa monk from India works on a sand mandala at the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts in Plattsburgh. Photo by Stephen Bartlett.

PLATTSBURGH — The monks sat cross-legged, bent at the waist as they created the sand mandala on the ground between them.

Seven Tsawa monks touring the United States from southern India spent more than 30 hours creating the work of art, only to later pour it into the Saranac River during a dissolution ceremony meant to pass the knowledge to the creatures in the water.

They spent nearly two weeks in the area before moving on to another leg of their tour.

“The festival has grown from a very small thing at SUNY Plattsburgh to a community-wide effort,” said Janine Scherline, executive director of the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts. “To have seven monks here from a monastery in India is pretty amazing.”

The Festival of Tibetan Arts and Rituals occurred April 5-28, and was brought to the area by the Adirondack Center for Tibet in partnership with the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts, Plattsburgh State, the Maya Center for Integrated Medicine & The Cultural Affairs Committee and Clinton Community College.

The Tsawa monks are from Gaden Jangtse Monastery in South India, and are touring America to raise awareness of Tibetan Buddhism.

Gaden Monastery, one of three major Buddhist monastic universities of Tibet, was founded in 1409 and at one point contained 7,000 monks.

After 1959, it was rebuilt in exile in south India and today houses roughly 1,400 monks.

There are 12 houses (khangsten) within the monastery that accommodate monks from different geographical backgrounds.

Tsawa khangsten is one of the largest and when Tibet was free it was home to more than 800 monks. After 1959, 10 escaped to India, and in 1960 their monastery was built to house about 100 monks. More than 500 are there today.

“They are trying to raise funds for a new prayer hall,” Scherline said.

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