Sunday, August 23, 2009

Impressions of Ganden Monastery

Some of the sights and sounds I most enjoyed at Ganden Monastery had little to do with the monastery itself, but with the rituals the locals were using in rebuilding it.

At one point we heard call and response chanting between groups of men and women, each call and response accompanied by pounding. Looking up we saw that workers were tamping the ground to provide a smooth surface for the next layer.

Later we saw a group of women applying a grout of mud with their fingers between stones as they rebuilt one of the destroyed walls. As David took a picture, they all smiled and said "hello", a word even Tibetan children use when they see a westerner.

There is a woodblock printing press at this monastery. It consists of two men sitting at either end of an 18-inch wood block. One, with a graceful motion picks up a long strip of paper, lays it precisely on the woodblock in one fluid movement. The other spreads ink on the woodblock and when the sheet is in place, swipes a roller across the paper. They get a lovely rhythm going with this work and break into a chant. Using sets of woodblocks they create entire books of sutras.

For the first time on this journey, I was disallowed to enter a chapel because I was a woman. Instead of being upset, I chose to enjoy the chanting and the sound of the symbols and drum without breathing in the fumes from the butter lamps. The chanting is really quite beautiful.

To listen to a minute of chanting, try this:

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