Special features of the 29th Kagyu International
Monlam: at the Monlam Pavilion
A new location
Because of the rising temperature in Bihar at this time of
year, the 29th Kagyu Monlam was moved from the
Mahabodhi stupa grounds to the Monlam Pavilion forcing a
rapid creative adaptation of previous arrangements .
The main body of the pavilion is basically a domed bamboo
construction, supported by bamboo columns , with an outer
covering of bright blue pvc. The arch over the Monlam Stage
is a steel construction. The interior is swathed in blue and
white cloth and decorated with rosettes. The sides are open
though there is an awning which protects against the sun.
The seating areas, delineated by a green felt covering, have
a section of comfortable armchairs for high rinpoches during
performances and some ceremonies, cushions and mattresses in
the areas designated for monks, nuns and VIPs, and plastic
chairs at the back for those who are elderly or disabled.
The walkways and central aisle are covered in red felt. In
addition there are designated areas on the lefthand side for
the translators, technical support, webcast crew, and Kagyu
Monlam publicity team who write the reports on all events.
The overall impression inside the pavilion is one of light
airiness and coolness, enhanced by the slight blue tinge
cast by the blue cloth and blue pvc outer covering.
It can seat 8000 people comfortably, 10 000 if necessary.
The backdrop to the Monlam stage
Last year’s niche for the golden Buddha image has been
replaced by an amazing backdrop of Ghang Rinpoche, the
Tibetan name for Mt Kailash, revered alike by Tibetans and
Hindus; by Tibetans as Mt Meru, the navel of the world, and
by Hindus as the abode of the god Shiva.
Painted by Dr Dawa, a skilled illustrator as well as Tibetan
doctor, formerly director of the Tibetan
Medical-astrological Institute in Dharamsala, the mountain
rises like a stronghold out of grassy green meadows, drawing
the eye upward to a blue sky with wisps of white cloud. The
mountain itself is cloaked in fresh snow, and careful use of
shadow creates an impression of solidity and
There are two altars, to left and right of the life-like
images of the First Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa and the Sixteenth
Karmapa Rigpe Dorje.
Each altar has three tiers. The top tiers each hold four
torma, capped with golden parasols (See separate feature
middle and lower tiers display traditional Korean
offerings: cylindrical arrangements of nuts, sweets and
dried fruit, and pyramids of fresh fruit.
In front of the Buddha image, there is a third altar for the
daily offerings of light and water.
Two additional altars were added for the long life offering
ceremonies for H.E. Tai Situ Rinpoche and H.E. Gyaltsap
Rinpoche, to hold eight special tormas created for that
occasion. (See separate feature.)
The flower arrangements
Spectacular bouquets of large red and yellow roses and huge
white chrysanthemums line either side of the central
staircase on the Monlam stage. Specially prepared by a group
of Taiwanese women, the bouquets are based on an original
flower arrangement created by the Gyalwang Karmapa himself.
His Holiness has been a frequent visitor to their backstage
work-area, not just watching but enthusiastically joining in
with the flower arranging whilst chatting away with them in
Chinese. The flowers themselves, though mainly artificial,
are of the highest quality and convincingly lifelike.
Arrangements of fresh flowers decorate the tables of His
Holiness, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Gyaltsap Rinpoche.
The base of the stage is cloaked by pots of foliage plants –
The appliqué thangka exhibition
A unique feature of this year’s Losar commemoration was the
unfurling of a huge brocade, appliqué thangka of Shakyamuni
Buddha. The master tailor who made the thangka, Tenzin
Gyaltsen, mounted an exhibition of appliqué thangkas at the
Monlam Pavilion, for viewing during the Monlam.
Gyaltsen was the last student to complete his training under
Gyalten Namgyal. Gyalten Namgyal himself was the last master
in an unbroken line dating back to the time of the Great
Fifth Dalai Lama, who established the Zojungkhang
[Arts and Crafts Centre] in Lhasa, Tibet, in order to revive
and preserve traditional Tibetan Arts and Crafts. The late
Gyalten Namgyal was master tailor to both the Thirteenth and
Fourteenth Dalai Lamas.
thangkas on display include ones of Shakyamuni Buddha,
Medicine Buddha, Green Tara, Four-armed Chenrezig, White
Tara and a unique red and black thangka of Guru Rinpoche.
This thangka illustrates the innovative aspect of Tenzin
had not been much development or variation in the appliqué
thangka tradition,” he explained. “Red and black thangkas
already existed in the painted thangka tradition, but there
was a gap in the appliqué thangka tradition. To fill that
gap I struggled for twenty-five years and eventually
succeeded in making various kinds of appliqué thangka of
signing the visitor’s book, His Holiness wrote,
“I strongly appreciate how the Tibetan art of appliqué
thangka has not declined but has been preserved; this is a
Report by Jo Gibson, photos taken by
Karma Lekcho, Filip Wolak, Liao