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Artistic Activity in Nepal as World Peace - Artist Profile

Friday, January 14, 2011

  All Text Otherwise not Credited is Contributed by Archana Verma

Get this article in PDF by clicking on the subscription link on the right menu. Send title of article to me at  archana@southasianarts.org, so that your PDF can be sent.
   Lung-ta (also rlung-ta or klung-ta) is the prayer flag arranged in the horizontal fashion in Tibetan Buddhist areas. The word means "wind-horse," implying the wind that will carry the prayer around and spread it to all space. The notion of the wind carrying the prayers to the gods is as old as the Vedas. The Vedic sacrifices evolved around the fire altar and the smoke of the fire was believed to carry the offerings to the gods along with the wind. Even today, this is the concept behind the Hindu worship rituals that take place around the sacred fire. Tibetan Buddhism has evolved this concept to a ritual art form.  Since sacrifice is not used in Buddhism, this concept has been modified in Tibetan Buddhism.
   India has had a very ancient technology of producing block-printed cloth. In today's Tibetan areas, the religion that existed before Buddhism was called Bon, from which Tibetan Buddhism has borrowed many elements. Bon had a tradition of using five-coloured plain flags in their healing rituals. It appears that this tradition was combined with the Indian technology of producing block-printed designs on cloth to produce the prayer-flags of Tibetan Buddhism. (see more on this here). The other flag-style, viz, the vertical one, is called Darchor (See more on this here). Dar signifies increasing life, fortune, health and wealth and Cho refers to all sentient beings.

Lung-Ta Style Flags (See Link Here)

Darchor-Style Flags (See Link Here)
Often, these two styles are combined, in which the horizontal flag-lines are tied to the vertical flag-pole.
   In essence, a Lung-ta prayer flag is a rectangular or circular piece of cloth (ideally silk, but cotton or synthetic cloth may also be used), with block-print of a horse in the centre, four symbolic animal figures in four corners and selections from the 400 hymns from the compositions about three Bodhisattvas - Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri. These figures are worshipped in Tibetan Buddhism as divinities. Ta signifies a swift horse, symbolising the spreading of prayers in all pervading spaces when wind comes in contact with them. The symbolic animals in four corners represent Garuda or Eagle (upper left corner), which signifies wisdom and defeat of diseases and malevalent forces, Dragon (upper right), who symbolises overcoming of ignorance and acquiring gentle power, snow lion (lower left) symbolising fearless joy and tiger (lower right) symbolising confidence arising from the path of Dharma that Buddha taught. Very often, on top the three Buddhist deities- Avalokiteshvara (compassion), Majushri (wisdom) and Vajrapani (power) are also represented. At the bottom, joining of rival forces and thus producing universal friendship is represented by combining the features of snow lion and Garuda together, fish and otter together and sea-alligator and sea-snail together. The horse in the centre carries three jewels of Buddhism - Buddha, Dharma and Sangha (See more here). The five colours of the flags are - blue (space) presided by Akshobhya overcoming ignorance, white (water) presided by Ratnasambhava overcoming pride and miserliness, red (fire) presided by Amitabha overcoming delusion of attachment, green (air) presided by Amoghasiddhi overcoming jealousy and yellow (earth) presided by Vairochana overcoming anger. These flags have to be hung only in this colour-sequence.
A Lung-ta style flag with four symbolic animals (See Original Image Here)

Lung-ta style flag with four corner animals, three deities at the top, friendship symbols at the bottom and Swastika signs for eternal well-being (See Original Image Here)
Lung-ta style Prayer-Flag with the Corner Animals Represented Only by Inscriptions of their Names -  Kyung (Garuda), Druk (Dragon), Senge (Snow-Lion) and Tag (Tiger) (Photo - Maureen Drdak, Inscription read by Archana Verma)
Rival Forces Join to Symbolise Universal Friendship (See Original Image Here)
Five-Coloured flags Placed on a Peak near Mount Everest on the Tibetan Side (See Original Image Here)

   However, it should be remembered that horse-design flags are only one of their kind in the wide array of prayer-flags evolved by Tibetan Buddhism. There can be prayer-flags designed around many concepts and figures such as Goddess Tara with hymns dedicated to her printed around her image and Medicine Buddha or Bhaishajyaguru flags. This Buddha is the one who teaches medical knowledge and hence, grants longevity, good health and well-being to all sentient beings.
Tara-style Prayer-Flag (See Original Image Here)
Bhaishajyaguru (Medicine Buddha)-Style Prayer-Flag (See Original Image Here)
A  Hymn to Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva (in Sanskrit) Very Beautifully Sung in Tibetan Buddhist Style (Link for Video)

Tibetan Rendition of the Sanskrit Avalokiteshvara Hymn from the Video Above (Link for Video)

Sanskrit Lyrics of this Hymn

Namo Ratna Tryaye,
Namo Arya Jnana
Sagara, Vairochana,
  Vyuharajaya Tathagataya,
Arahate, Samyaksam Buddhaya,
Namo Sarva Tathagatebhyah,
Samyaksam Buddhebhyah,
Namo Arya Avalokite
shvaraya Bodhisattvaya,
Maha Sattvaya,
Maha Karunikaya,
Tadyathah, Om Dhara Dhara,
Dhiri Dhiri, Dhuru Dhuru
Itiye vitiye Chale Chale,
Prachale Prachale,
Kusume Kusumavaraye,
Ili Mili, Chetam Jvalam, Apnaye Svaha...

A Free English  Translation
(Translated by Archana Verma)
"Salutations to the Three Jewels,
Salutations to the Noble Vairochana Tathagata Arhata Buddha, who looks at everyone equinamously and who presides over the vyuha and who is an abode of the ocean of Knowledge,
Salutations to the Noble Arahata Tathagata Buddhas who look at all beings equinamously,
Salutations to the Noble Avalokiteshvara,
Who is a Great Being and is Greatly compassionate towards all sentient beings,
Hence, let's hold fast, hold fast on to the vow, 
Come, let's get together here
And envelope the lotus of our hearts and consciousness
With Enlightenment 
(so that we lead others towards liberation from misery)..."
(Mid-Length Hymn of Avalokiteshvara, also called Hymn of 1000-armed Avalokiteshvara)
For the concept of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, see here.

   There is a Western artists' collective, which is titled after this concept as Lung-ta Collaborative. Maureen Drdak the painter, Andrea Clearfield the musician and Manfred Fischbeck the choreographer are members of this collective. They have worked with Tenzing Bista, a gifted Tibetan Buddhist monk who has served as the royal physician at Lho Mangthang in Nepal and who composes poetic Buddhist prayers.

Andrea Clearfield and Maureen Drdak (See Original Image Here)
The following prayer written by Tenzing Bista is very significant as it was composed on 11th of September, 2008 i.e., on the anniversary of the terrorist attack of 9/11 and it prays for the planetary peace - thus countering the ideology of hatred and violence propagated in the name of religion.This prayer extends itself to all people of the world, regardless of the religious beliefs they follow - again a marked contrast from the religious sects that attempt to protect only their own followers and hate and destroy the others.
    Apart from the symbolic significance of this prayer for world-peace, it is also important for the students of Tibetan Buddhism, as it shows the elaborate iconography of divinities utilised in prayers and flags and also the symbolic associations of these deities with various aspects.
Prayer written by Tenzing S. Bista
(Translated by Dr. Sienna Craig of Dartmouth College and Transcribed by Kunga Nyima Delotsang, a Friend of Dr. Craig in the Tibetan Community of Ithaca)
Path of Aspiration: A Prayer for Planetary Peace
Amchi Tenzing Sangbo Bista
Oh, assembly of the guru and the Three Jewels [of person, words and actions], and tutelary deities who are at the root of all accomplishments, and as expansive as the sea,
Oh, dakini sky dancers, dharma protectors, guardians of the doctrine, and the gods of wealth and those with power and strength,
Oh, local gods and all the elemental spirits, protectors of this place, local spirits, owners of this ground, along with the eight classes of demons and the lords of the earth who pervade this soil
May it be that peace and well being is extended and enlivened throughout this earthly world of sentient beings!
Oh, five deities of the household and of lineage, and the assemblage of nine protector deities,
The warrior deities and those of your navel, your mother, may they help you possess power and strength,
May those that grant longevity and merit, power and influence, and the vital energy of wind become your ally, increasing your renown,
And, may it be that peace and well being is extended and enlivened throughout this earthly world of sentient beings!
May the religion of the Buddha increase everywhere, in all ways and all directions
May benefactors of the Buddha's teachings flow forth from the dispeller of all obstacles
And may it be that peace and well being is extended and enlivened throughout this earthly world of sentient beings!
This prayer of aspiration was prepared by Tenzing of Lo Monthang, in the 9th month on the 11th day, in the Western year of 2008. (Sept. 11, 2008)

Prayer by Tenzing Bista in his Handwriting and in Sharpened Form (Text and Photo provided by - Maureen Drdak)

Tenzing Bista's contacts -
Amchi Tenzing S. Bista
(Physician at Lho Mangthang, Masthang Province, Nepal)
C/O, Amchi Gyatso Bista 
G.P.O.Box # 14202
Boudha, Kathmandu
Tel: 977-1-4490269
Fax : 977-1-4472529
Email: hiam98@yahoo.com

   Lho Mangthang in Masthang region is home to Tenzing Bista. It is a Tibetan Buddhists' province within Nepal and is closely allied to Tibet culturally, geographically and climatically. Lho Mangthang  (at the height of 3,700 metres) is the walled capital of this about 3000 sq kms Tibetan province in Nepal.  A. H. Francke in his Antiquities of  Indian Tibet, published first in 1914, described Lho-Monsdan (Lo-Mantang on the maps) as the capital of a Tibetan Province called Blo-bo north of Muktinath (1). Michael Peissel in his Mustang, the Forbidden Kingdom, published in 1967, described in great detail the city of Lho-Mangthang, its rituals, the lives of the monks and the royals etc. (2).  He updated that description in 2002 with his Tibet-the Secret Kingdom (3). The Himalayan Journal says that Lo-Mantang translates as the "Plain of Prayer in the Land of Lo" (4). Till recently, this area was closed to foreigners. It was opened to them in 1991 and now there are guided trekking tours going to Lho Mangthang and beyond (two of such trekking groups going there are - Nepal Hiking Team and Dragon Trek).
Following are the map of this trek and some images from Lho Mangthang - 

Trekking Map to Lho Mangthang (See Original Image Here)

Stupas of Lo Manthang, Lo Manthang, Nepal
This travel blog photo's source is TravelPod page: Day 9: Lo Manthang
Stupas at Lho Mangthang (Photo - Simon and Jessica)

Monestary of Namgyal, Lo Manthang, Nepal
This travel blog photo's source is TravelPod page: Day 9: Lo Manthang
Namgyal Monastery (Photo - Simon and Jessica)
Ancient fortresses towering over Lo Manthang, Lo Manthang, Nepal
This travel blog photo's source is TravelPod page: Day 9: Lo Manthang
Ancient Fortresses Looking over Lho Mangthang (Photo - Simon and Jessica)
Ancient ruins in the valley, Lo Manthang, Nepal
This travel blog photo's source is TravelPod page: Day 9: Lo Manthang
Ancient Ruins in the Masthang Valley (Photo - Simon and Jessica)
Lo Manthang in the evening light, Lo Manthang, Nepal
This travel blog photo's source is TravelPod page: Day 9: Lo Manthang
Lho Mangthang in the Evening Light (Photo - Simon and Jessica)
Group of women praying, Lo Manthang, Nepal
This travel blog photo's source is TravelPod page: Day 9: Lo Manthang
Group of Women Praying (Photo - Simon and Jessica)

The Living Blessings of Lo
Andrea Clearfield on Lung-Ta 

Lung-Ta (The Windhorse)

Calling of the Dieties, Part I (Wrathful)
I.  Manjusri (Wisdom)
Calling of the Dieties, Part II (Peaceful)
II.  Avolokiteshvara (Compassion)
Calling of the Dieties, Part III (Tibetan Orchestra)
III. Vajrapani (Action)
Epilogue (
A Prayer for World Peace by Tenzin Sangbo Bista)
The music for Lung-Ta (The Windhorse) is inspired by the breath-taking expanse of ancient, windy, raw high bone and coral shades of mountain landscape in the shadow of the Himalayas - Lo Monthang in northern Nepal, the powerful and resonant sounds of Tibetan Buddhist ritual music, and the deeply rich and spiritual life of the people there in this remote kingdom, one of the last remaining enclaves of pure Tibetan culture. The work is scored for nine musicians, each playing their own instrument plus Tibetan Buddhist instruments brought back from the trek; it also uses field recordings that I made on horseback, the chanting of the monks in both Tibetan Buddhist and Bon Po ceremonies in Upper Mustang, and the folk music of Tashi Tsering, the royal court singer of Lo Monthang.
The trek with painter Maureen Drdak, anthropologist Dr. Sienna Craig and her young daughter, Aida, into the restricted area of Upper Mustang became the window into this vast sound world. The piece takes its form from Maureen's 3 dynamic paintings, each representing one of the 3 protector deities of the Rigsum Gompo, structures found near the entrances of the villages in the high mountains. The 3 movements are informed by: Manjusri, Avolokiteshvara and Vajrapani, representing Wisdom, Compassion and Action, respectively. The music incorporates fragments of the melodies that were sung to me by Tashi Tsering, and composed with elements of heterophony (I), monophony (II) and polyphony (III).  Interspersed sections of “calling” the dieties employ ornaments, rhythms and pitched fragments from traditional Tibetan Buddhist chant and instrumental ritual music. Lung-Ta is also influenced by the prana threads in Maureen’s paintings: meridians that energetically run through the body to create universal connection. The musical representation of the prana threads can be heard as a C#/Db tone that continually dances through all of the instruments, even voices; it is ever present in Lung-ta, but is always shifting and morphing, like the clouds. The prana threads can be heard by single instruments or as a moving wave of sound with ornamental figures and microtonal undulations.
A Prayer for World Peace was written for us by Tenzin Sangbo Bista, senior Buddhist monk of Lo Monthang’s Choede Monastery and founder of the Lo Kunphen (Tibetan Medicine) School. The prayer is not sung, but rather unfolds through the trajectory of Lung-Ta, working its way from the gathering of wisdom to the all- encompassing connection of compassion into the manifestation of global action for positive change. At the conclusion of the work, there will be a recording of Tenzin Bista reciting his prayer in Tibetan.  It is very special to us that Tenzin has traveled from Nepal to be with us for both the benefit event held recently for his school, and for the premiere of “Lung-Ta”.

See Andrea Clearfield's Profile here

Contact - 
Andrea Clearfield
400 South Sydenham St.
Phila., PA 19146
215 893-0127
484 431 8376
PH: 215 893-0127

More resources on this project (provided by Andrea Clearfield), with musical soundtracks of the composition of Andrea Clearfield can be found on her website here.

Lung-ta Collaborative on Youtube (Provided by Andrea Clearfield)
The Living Blessings of Lo

Manfred Fischbeck on Lung-Ta 
It was an honor for me and the Group Motion Dance Company to be invited into the creation of Lung-Ta (The Windhorse) and to provide the dimension of dance to this amazing collaboration.
The choreography for the piece was developed in closely following the structure of the musical and visual compositions.  Although using essentially an abstract movement language, the dance took inspiration from the imagery and the sounds of the Tibetan Buddhist music, art, and symbolism such as the prayer flags, the windhorse, the iconography of the clouds, sword, and flower, mudras of Tibetan Buddhist prayers, the ideas of the ‘peaceful and wrathful,’ and the deities of wisdom, compassion, and action.  Along the prana threads that pervade Andrea’s music and Maureen’s prayer flag paintings, the creation of the dance unfolded organically with the breath of the music.  Incorporating at one point the use of Tibetan drums and at the end the movement with authentic Nepalese scarves into the formation of an embodied prayer flag – the dance understands itself and the entire work as a prayer for global peace.
We are grateful to Andrea and Maureen and the Network for New Music and the spirit energy of Lo Monthang to be a part of this work.

See Manfred Fischbeck's profile here
Contact -

Manfred Fischbeck
215 662 5064

Maureen Drdak 
Profile-Text provided by Maureen Drdak
Please see here the article by Maureen Drdak, in which she discusses her paintings based on the concept of Lung-ta and on the poetic prayer of Tenzing Bista given above.

Maureen Drdak is a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine
Maureen Drdak is a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Philadelphia College of Art (University of the Arts) in Philadelphia; additional studies include Temple University, the Barnes Foundation, and research travel in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, India, Nepal and the Himalayas. Her work concerns relate to universal paradigms of mythic archetypes, their capacity for cultural bridging, and their relevance in contemporary space. She is the recipient of numerous academic and private awards, most recently from H. F. Gerry Lenfest and Eugene V. Thaw for Lung-Ta, an interdisciplinary collaborative with American composer Andrea Clearfield, which premiered at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia in March of 2009. Her work is found in numerous public, private, and university collections within the US and abroad, including the Berman Museum, Yad VaShem in Jerusalem, Berthe and John Ford, Lynda and Stuart Resnick, and King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan. Solo exhibitions, museum and academic lecture venues by invitation include, but are not limited to; Indigo Gallery (Nepal), the Patan Museum and Kathmandu Contemporary Art Center (Nepal), the University of the Arts, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Penn College of Technology/Penn State University, West Chester University, Temple University Center for the Humanities, Massachusetts College of Art, the Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art, Lehigh University, the Lawrence Gallery at Rosemont College in Philadelphia, the Iraqimemorial.org Exhibition and Symposium at the University of Nevada at Reno, and Charles More & Associates, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Forthcoming Exhibits include the Twelve Gates Gallery, Philadelphia, Visting Artist at Singinawa Foundation, Kanha, India, Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, and Serindia Gallery in Bangkok, Thailand.
Maureen Drdak is a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Email: maureen@maureendrdak.com  
Website: www.Mdrdak.com /www.myartspace.com.
1. A. H. Francke, Antiquities of Indian Tibet, Superintendent Government Printing, Calcutta, 1914, p. 84.
2. Michael Piessel, Mustang, the Forbidden Kingdom, Dutton (Penguin Group), New York, 1967, pp. 160-224.
3. Michael Piessel, Tibet - The Secret Kingdom, Thomas Dunne Books, New York, 2002.
4. Himalayan Journal, Vol. 56, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 64-66.

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