Archive for the ‘Summer 2010 Visit’ Category

For our recent presentation on the Tibetan art classes at the Mayul school, Professor Yoonmi Nam created some handouts so that everyone can learn to draw a Buddha in the Tibetan style.  You will find these with  PDF versions to download below.

Dorje (right) teaching students the fundamentals of drawing (photo by Eric Conrad)

These handouts follow the methods of the Tibetan art teacher, Dorje, at the Mayul School.  Dorje begins each class by sketching a figure, and he often includes the template needed to create the correct proportions for the figure.  Students have to master the proportions on these templates to know how to draw according to Tibetan artistic conventions.  Tibetan paintings begin as drawings to which color is added, hence drawing is the literal foundation for Tibetan painting.

Professor Nam has provided images within a grid and the initial lines drawn onto that grid that form the foundation for two figures: the head of a Buddha and a seated Buddha.

Head of a Buddha (by Yoonmi Nam)

buddha head, detail

Guidelines to draw a Buddha's head (Yoonmi Nam)

Head Guidelines

Seated Buddha (by Yoonmi Nam)

seated buddha

Guidelines to draw a seated Buddha (by Yoonmi Nam)

Seated Buddha Guidelines

Try drawing your own Buddha and let us hear about it.

– Eric Rath


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On November 5th in Alderson Auditorium at the University of Kansas Union our project team presented “Wrathful Deities and Peaceful Buddhas: Studying Tibetan Art in China.” The presentation described our two-year project to develop a program in traditional arts at a school for Tibetans in China, providing an overview of the process of creating traditional Tibetan paintings (tangkha), and their cultural meanings.

Eric Rath introduced the project, describing the aims and construction of the Mayul school profiling its students and current offering of courses that provide a context for the new courses on traditional art funded by our grant.  Champa Lhunpo described the religious practices and significance of traditional Tibetan painting to Tibetan culture and religiosity.  Eric Conrad and Yoonmi Nam explained the process that the teacher of Tibetan art, Dorje, uses to instruct students at the Mayul School.

Professors Conrad and Nam lecturing on Tibetan Drawing (photo by Dana Rath)

Typically, Dorje draws an image on the blackboard for students to copy and then he critiques their work as they reproduce his drawing in class.   This allows students to practice the proportions and stylistic conventions fundamental to Tibetan art.  Since paintings begin as sketches, drawing is the literal and physical foundation of Tibetan painting.


Eric Conrad's rendering of a drawing of a yak by Dorje

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this event and made it possible.

– Eric Rath

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A Tibetan family reunion or an outdoor gathering of nomad friends will include a picnic, but people soon get tired of eating and want to amuse themselves.  One possibility is to join a group of people in contests of strength, horsemanship, or running as I described previously.  But if you have just one or two friends who wish to have fun, there are other games for just two people.

A Digression about Large Tents (and What Goes on Inside of Them)

To digress for a moment, a lot of this playing around occurs at night outside of the view of cameras, so my illustrations here are from a Tibetan gathering earlier in the day, particularly of activities in and around a large tent where meetings, music and eating occurred.

A Big Tent

Tents like this are white from the outside, but inside they have a pink cast due to their colorful interior fabric.

Watching Entertainers inside the Tent

The audience sat on carpets and enjoyed various refreshments — candies, fried bread, fruit, etc — while watching musical and dance performances and hearing from various speakers, in this case describing the virtues of the extended family that they all belonged to.

Musician Performing in the Tent

Individual Games

There are relay races, rock throwing and other competitions that take place during the day and  gatherings at night where young people dance together in a circle.  (This video provides some sense of that except that one needs to imagine the dancing at night around a fire or in front of the headlights of parked cars, like we enjoyed it).

Besides these activities, individuals can challenge one another to various games and tests of strength and agility.  There are pushing games: 1) hopping on one foot (hold your other foot to do that) and try to push your opponent over; or 2) stand about two feet apart from someone with your legs together, straight and attempt to push them over.

And there are tests of strength where two opponents get on all fours and face each other like angry yaks.  The opponents touch their heads together and attempt to push each other backward, which can be painful if one’s opponent has a hard head!  In a variation on this, which is probably the most amusing game to watch, two players get on all fours facing the opposite direction, and a long rope — tied so that it makes a circle — is put around their necks like yaks yoked to a wagon.  The two yaks pull in opposite directions in a contest of strength.  This is particularly funny because the rope passes through the players’ legs, constricting their lower extremities in some cases.  Truly some games are best as spectator sports.

– Eric C. Rath

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Besides teaching drawing classes to the students in the school, Dorje, the traditional art teacher, maintains an ongoing painting studio at the school.

Dorje in Drawing Class

There he works on his own commissions and trains apprentices in the rigorous art of tanghka painting.  Here are few photos of his studio.

Two Works in Progress

Note how the tangkha are painted on canvas stretched tightly on wood frames.

Dorje Explains how to Apply Colors

Work in Progress (detail)

Work in Progress (detail, 2)

It can take seven months to finish one tangkha painting and the level of detail in these examples explains the reason for that.

– Eric C. Rath

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Exterior of the Main Prayer Hall

Yesterday the paintings in the main prayer hall were uncovered in anticipation of a visit by government officials today.

Prayer Hall Interior

Usually the paintings that adorn the walls of the prayer hall are covered by cloth strips that have to be lifted to see the paintings underneath.  With the cloth removed, the paintings could be viewed in their full glory.  Here is just a selection of a few of these.

Dorje Purba (Vajrakilaya)

Dharma Regent

Guru Rinpoche with Consort and Entourage (Detail)

— Eric C. Rath

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At events like family gatherings, it is clear that Tibetans have almost limitless ways of entertaining themselves using little more than their imaginations and a large repertoire of games.

Running Yogi

One of our favorite group games is “Horse Thief.”  People divide into two teams, and line up facing each other.  A representative from one side called the “buyer” walks to the other side and speaks to one of the other team members, who is the “seller.” asking how much each one of his horses cost.  (The other team members pretend they are the horses).  Part of the fun of the game is the negotiations between the buyer and seller over the cost of the horses.  “How much is this poor horse?  500?  That’s too much!”  During the course of the discussion the horse buyer tries to get close enough to one of the horses on the opposite team to slap him or her on the shoulder to “steal” the horse.  If the buyer turned thief can run back to his team without the tagged player tagging him, then he gets to keep the horse and the other player joins his team.  Players take turns being the buyer, seller, and horses.  The game continues until one side has stolen all the horses from the other side.

Another game involving two teams is Sun and Moon (nyima,dawa).  A judge finds a stone and makes enough markings on it so that everyone will recognize it and be able to tell it apart from other stones on the ground.  Both teams line up side by side with their backs facing the judge.  The judge hides the marked stone behind the players.  After the stone has been hidden the judge tells the players, who turn around and race trying to find the stone.  When a member from one team finds the stone, he tries to run back to the judge.  Members from the other team try to tag him on the head (or tackle him to the ground), but the person with the stone can throw it to his teammates.  When someone gives the stone to the judge without being tagged, then he scores a point for his team.

Watching the games

A group game where people compete against one another is the Tibetan variation of “Duck, Duck, Goose.”  Players make a circle and one person who is “it” walks around the circle carrying a hat or another object.  The player can choose to drop the hat behind any of the other players.  When he does that, the players race around the circle.  The player who dropped the hat tries to run back and sit down in the tagged player’s spot.  The tagged player tries to tag the person who dropped the hat.  The looser becomes it and has to dance or sing for the others in the middle of the circle.

A non-competitive group game is called “Dragon.”  Everyone holds hands in a long line.  One end of the dragon is the head.  The head of the dragon starts walking pulling the other team members behind.  The head picks a spot between two players and darts under their joined hands, and then chooses a spot between two more players and darts under their hands.  The rest of the dragon follows in this ever faster dash between the players, everyone trying to hold on as the dragon twists and turns.  In a variation of this game the group divides up into two teams with the team members holding on to each other from behind to form two dragons.  The dragons then fight trying to knock each other over.

— Eric C. Rath

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Though sweets — candies, rock sugar, and dried fruit — are ever present on Tibetan tables to offer guests, dessert is usually not part of Tibetan meals with one exception —  Jin (shin), a confection made from butter, tiny sweet potatoes (drolma), cheese, and sugar.

Jin (Shin)

To make Jin, mash boiled drolma to a fine paste and mix in the sugar and cheese.  Tibetan cheese is very hard, so small pieces are preferred.  Cheese used for Jin should have the size and taste of an aged Parmesan cheese.  The cheese adds a slight texture to the final product, nicely complimenting the soft sweet potatoes.  A copious amount of melted butter is poured over this mix, which is then stirred and  allowed to sit.  The butter congeals, hardening the confectionery, which is then cut into large chunks like fudge.  Most of us cannot enjoy a whole chunk of Jin, because it is so rich and buttery.  So it is best served with a knife to slice smaller pieces.

Since Jin is not a dessert, it can be enjoyed with every meal as it is here in Golok.

– Eric C. Rath

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