Tibetan monks create sand mandala in Collis
By Grace Wyler, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, July 31, 2007
The world-renowned monks, or lamas, of Tibet's Drepung Loseling Monastery performed many of their ancient rituals at various events this weekend as part of Dartmouth's annual Sophomore Family Weekend. The monks directed a number of workshops in community sand mandala painting, in addition to performing their famed multiphonic temple music and masked dances to an audience of community members, students and visitors.
Central to the monks visit to Dartmouth was the creation of sand mandalas that took place over the course of the weekend in the Collis Center. The "sand-painting" began with opening ceremonies, a ritual of song and dance during which the lamas consecrated the site of the mandala creation, calling forth the forces of goodness.
The ceremonies were attended by members of the community who were then invited to observe the ancient art of sand mandala painting and participate in the creation of a communal sand mandala adjacent to the lamas' own work.
"I brought my parents to Collis this weekend to see the Tibetan monks create their mandala because they had come to my high school every year, so I knew how spectacular their artwork was, and I wanted to show my mom and dad," Molly Davidson '09 said.
The lamas began by drawing an outline of the mandala on the wooden platform upon which colored sand is then meticulously placed to depict geometric shapes and ancient symbols. The mandala is used to symbolize the transitory nature of material things.
Following ancient Buddhist tradition, the mandalas were subsequently destroyed during the closing ceremonies on Sunday. Part of the sand from the mandala was distributed to members of the audience, and the lamas then led a procession of community members, students and parents down West Wheelock Street to the Connecticut River, where the remainder of the sand was cast away to symbolize the evanescence of life.
"Having the monks on campus was thrilling. It's one of those out-of-the-ordinary events that really gives you the chance to gain a new perspective on the world and see the beauty that exists within another culture," Ry Sullivan '09 said. "Watching the monks spend countless hours creating a beautiful piece of artwork that would last just a few days was both breathtaking and provoking. The rituals of the closing ceremony and march down to the river were extremely powerful."
In addition to the sand mandala ceremonies, the lamas also gave a performance of ancient temple music and dance in Spaulding Auditorium on Saturday night. Dressed in traditional brocade costumes and playing Tibetan instruments, the lamas performed their two forms of multiphonic singing. In this unique Tibetan technique, each of the chantmasters simultaneously intones three notes, thus individually creating a complete chord. This is accomplished by learning to control the vocal muscles in order to reshape them while singing -- intensifying the overtones of the voice.
"It sounds a little scary, even inhuman, when they are chanting all at once, but I really enjoyed seeing them, and was happy that they were here for [Sophomore Family Weekend] at Dartmouth," Davidson said.