Friday, June 08, 2012

Buddha festival at Namdroling Monastery

We walked into the Namdroling Monastery through its painted gates in that quiet afternoon. There came upon us a stillness that halted our steps and our thoughts. A performance that was a prayer within a square courtyard and rows and rows of Tibetan monks in orange and dark red robes sitting on all sides. A few monks chanted, a few counted beads in their hand whilst in the centre of the space; there was the slow movement and the slow chanting of the performers. It was a quiet chanting, that those who chanted could hear and not others. The sounds of drums and cymbals as if coming from somewhere far away.

We had come here on a day when the Buddha festival was going on at the Monastery. According to the Tibetan calendar, the month of June is a special month for practice since the enlightenment and parinirvana of Buddha falls on the 15th day of the month. This is known as Saga Dawa Dhuechen. The Dhuechen are the 10th and 15th days of the month and the fourth tibetan lunar month is called Saga Dawa. The Losar cham (Lama dance) is performed during this time and we had a chance to see it that day.

The Namdroling Monastery is in Bylakuppe, the largest Tibetan settlement in India, near Kushalnagar, in Mysore district. This is the link to the official website of the Namdroling Monastery. This Tibetan settlement is about 82 km from Mysore city and 220 km from Bangalore. The monastery was established by His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche in 1963 and is also known as the Golden Temple. In 1978, the Ngagyur Nyingma Institute, a Center for Buddhist studies and research was established here. It houses five hundred monks studying the Buddhist sutras and tantras in a nine year program. The monks graduate to become Khenpos and are then sent to teach in different Nyingmapa (a lineage of Tibetan Buddhism) monasteries and Centers of buddhist learning.

I came across this really interesting website of the Tibet Oral History Project - which has interviews of Tibetans living in India - stories from the last generation that had lived in a free, unoccupied Tibet and who have now lived in exile for several years, many of them in Bylakuppe.

At the festival that day, there were between the rows and rows of seated monks, a few monks standing and walking around. They were not chanting, they were selling food. They held in plastic bags and plastic crates several items for sale. There were cold drinks, packaged drinking water, potato chips and slices of watermelon. How long had the monks been sitting here in this square? Was this meant to be uninterrupted prayer? There was also hot chai and cold buttermilk being served without a charge. A few monks walked along the sides and the seated monks bought what they needed, a snack or a drink, to sustain for a while.

This experience at the Buddha festival that day made me reflect on the ‘act of consumption’ and the ‘act of restraint’. I think these thoughts came because what we saw that afternoon was a congruence of both. On the one hand, we need to sustain our body and consumption becomes a part of our daily life. On the other hand, we need to sustain our mind that seeks peace and contentment and restraint seems to be the path to follow.

At the Namdroling Monastery, as in other monasteries, the monks who immerse themselves in the teachings of the Buddha have exercised restraint in the way they live. Outside of the Monastery, it is the ‘act of consumption’ that takes precedence over everything else. We buy clothes, we buy food, we buy gold, we buy books and we buy furniture. We shop and we consume. I thought perhaps the Bazaar becomes then the embodiment of this consumption and its various hues.

There are also the temple bazaars where what we buy, we offer to our Gods – sometimes its flowers, sometimes its incense. The Temple bazaar is a place where we mark time before or after our prayers. It continues to be an ‘act of consumption’ that falls on our path of momentary restraint and holiness. The bazaar around the Mylapore Temple in Chennai, like other temple bazaars, is about daily necessities, religious bonding and periodic festivities. In the temple town of Tiruvannamalai, there is a central marketplace for both the devotee and the common man. As people go about the town and the marketplace, some consciously seek spiritual attainment and others fill their lives with days of labour, reaching sometimes the same destination without seeking it.

It seems to me that in every bazaar and in every moment in our lives, the act of restraint and the act of consumption emerge from within us quite in the same way, for one there is the temple and the monastery, for the other – the bazaar.

Related Posts:
the Tibetans at the Cliff
Mylapore Temple Bazaar, Chennai
Market streets of Tiruvannamalai


R Niranjan Das said...

That seems like a wonderful experience. Nice captures and well written.

Anil P said...

Your thought: the ‘act of consumption’ and the ‘act of restraint’ is apt. It is in the balance between the two I believe we achieve a certain harmony in our lives.

The pictures reminded me of my own visit to the monastery some years ago, though it wasn't in the month of significance in the Tibetan calendar.

Indian Bazaars said...

R.Niranjan Das: Thankyou.

Anil P: The website of the Namdroling Monastery at mentions the ceremonies and dates through the year and next time, I was thinking to check this before going. Maybe, you'd like to do that too.

Anjali said...

This monastry is so clean and beautiful. You have captured the ‘act of consumption’ and the ‘act of restraint’ just like the paradoxes in life that worried Buddha. The paradoxes infact teach us that balance is what a life well lived is all about. One can feel the piety in your pictures and yet your focus stays on the bazaar aspect of it.

radha said...

What strikes you is the absolute orderliness. I believe a place of worship should be clean and silent. And then the prayer/ meditation/peace comes naturally.