Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Descending Day of Lord Buddha: A photo esssay

The "home examination" period is officially over for my class IX and class XI students and as of yesterday they are heading home. However that does not mean it is all over for me. Only through a concerted effort and much sacrificing of free time have I finally marked the first 4 class sets of papers leaving me another 4 to go. At least in this coming week there are no classes and no exam supervision so I feel that it will be possible to meet the deadline and the holidays are almost in sight even though we are not sure exactly when we will pull out of Rangjung.

For class X and XII the dreaded Bhutan Board exams are still to come. After one day of exams last week, there was a public holiday for The Descending Day of Lord Buddha or Choeker (I think the spelling is wrong again) This involved all the Class X and ClassXII students visiting the local monastery along with the rest of the local community and many of Ian's RLSS students and their families were also in the awestruck crowd.

The central players in this event were the wooden boxes of scriptures which are covered in bright orange coloured cloth and stored in the monastery. Once again students had the opportunity to carry them around the monastery, town and to both our schools where they were received in a grand fashion. A great deal of merriment and entertainment accompanied the processions, gatherings and prayers. 

I was tempted to give it a miss and jump right into that exam marking but curiosity got the better of me and  I had to see what this event entailed. In retrospect I am extremely glad I made the decision to go as it was an amazingly colourful spectacle that has truly whet our appetites for the Trashigang Tsechu.

The masked crowd pleaser warmed up the audience and collected donations throughout the whirling dervishes type performances that started the program and then all over town for the rest of the day.

We only stayed for the morning session as guilt got the better of me and I finally had to start wading my way through the bundles of exams papers I had successfully ignored up to that point, but what and amazing day it was.....  I will let the photos speak for themselves

The first of the amazing dance group's performances

Final turn before disappearing

Head lama at the helm.

Lined up and eagerly waiting to be in the parade with the sacred documents

Prayer captain in his element

The scriptures heading out of the monastery and beginning their journey around the local community

This was the scene at the chorten in the middle of town as we passed by en route to my school

The lucky Class X and XII students enjoying the spectacle .......

and tea of course!

Monks turned comedians

Those who weren't invited but couldn't resist watching filled the balcony seats

The procession leaving the higher secondary school and heading off to the lower secondary school

Happy as a lark with not a thought of those looming board exams. Way to go!

This time even some of the lower secondary students who missed out at the monastery got their hands on those sacred scriptures

When the show is over roll up the carpets, pack up the drums and think about lunch!

Never any shortage of takers there in a boarding school.

Even comedians have to walk home and make the most of the community spirit to fill the donations bag

Sometimes young novices are left to their own devices in the town

Since I began with an exam report, let me finish with my favourite student quote from the papers thus far "11 or 12 species of curry" This was of course referring to the wonderful food served at the school picnic last month.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The RHSS Prayer Wheel

The prayer wheel which was consecrated in our school today was the brainchild and long term objective of former RHSS principal Sonam Dorji.  Certainly he got the ball rolling with the fundraising but none of this was known to me until recently. A construction site appeared at the school gate and as there are others scattered around the place at first I paid it no attention.

It was at about this stage, that I realised that I should be documenting this process. 
I love to turn the prayer wheels but I really had no idea how they were built.

This was added to the top before it became anything more than a concrete shell.

Then the beautiful paintwork we have long admired began to appear.

I thought that it was now completely painted and the wheel itself needed to be put in place at this point but what would I know.

For weeks before it was installed the smell of sandalwood had pervaded the campus and it was at hand and ready to be installed at this point.

First all the prayers that give it its name have to be arranged in exactly the right order and right way up to be the blessing required, when the wheel is spun. Enter Class XI Science A.

Then in complete sets they have to be passed to the team attaching them onto the spindle of the wheel.

Class XII  boys and several Lamas undertook securing them all down and tying them in place with prayer flags of course!

A great deal of tension is required to get it all perfectly cylindrical.

Working conditions were always ad hoc and got even more creative as the complexity increased.

However there was no shortage of volunteers or manpower for the job.

Once the binding was done then the whole thing was covered in wood and planed by experts.

Teaching staff and non teaching staff were all as keen as the students to be a part of the process.

It seemed to be adding to everyone's GNH even in these early stages.

Extremely intricate patterns were painted on the pillars and pavilion over the weeks that followed the installation of the wheel.

The current principal generously donated the bell and as soon as it was installed it became a point of confusion for me. 

I am still never sure if it is the prayer wheel bell or the end of lesson bell ringing, much to the amusement of students.

Soon a base coat of red covered the outer layer of tin and the essential final touches of artwork and prayers were added.

Last Sunday on our return from Trashigang we spotted the bunting going up and knew that this was a sure sign that it would soon be complete. The school prayer captain affectionately known as "Lama" doing the honours.

I just love the safety precautions: hold those ankles and tie a strip of cloth around the waist of a classmate. Let's hope that the anchor weighs more than the worker!!

A line of flags with makeshift carved 'knife' tops made from cyprus greenery, until the real deal arrives,

a practise spin ......

wait a few days.......

then add garlands of seeds......

and a temporary altar,

and the scene is set for the big consecration this morning. 

The day before exams start for classes IX and XI. Sounds like a very good omen to me.

The first spin by the Lama after all the student prayers.

Students circumambulated the bigger path through the school campus while staff took the inner circuit near the wheel, with purification smoke billowing over us all.

The principal recording the auspicious event.

WOW! What a process and what a beautiful prayer wheel we now have at the entrance to the school.