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Phase II: Regional expansion


Practicing the art of making sand mandala - Sikkim

Project overview and objectives
In Sikkim, the project aims to provide training programs for young monks and novices in reviving ritualistic arts (such as sand mandala, torma butter sculpture, thread work, sacred chanting and the use of musical instruments), as well as regular training programs on wood crafts, calligraphy and drawing.

The project will develop a training curriculum which will be absorbed into the existing regular curricula of the Sa-Ngor Chotshog Centre in East Sikkim. Since monks in this gompa are not allowed to be sent outside for additional training as they would be absent from their regular programme of training, training activities will be conducted internally.

Project output to date
Project activities started in February 2005 with the involvement of expert craftsmen and trainers in woodcrafts, calligraphy and drawing. During the first project implementation cycle, training programs in wood crafts, calligraphy and drawing were introduced into the regular educational curriculum of monks and novices in the centre. Thirty monks at one time are being trained in each craft five times a week. Under the training courses, students are taught the basics of Buddhist art, drawing, and the traditional styles of writing in Tibetan script, particularly the UChen style (mainly used for wood block printing and engraving on stones and metals) and the U-Med style (used for writing Buddhist manuscripts as well as for secular use). The monastery has revived the art of teaching traditional styles of calligraphy on wood slates, which is an endangered art form.

From July-August 2005 during the annual Summer Retreat of the monks, the Sa Ngor Chotshog Centre organized training programmes on the following ritualistic arts. The training workshops were supervised by His Eminence Luding Khenchen Dorje Chang, the Supreme Head of the Ngorpa tradition of the Sakyapa Order based in Dehradun (India) and who is the only surviving authority on traditional ritualistic arts of the Ngorpa tradition. Video and photographic footages of the training programme taken during the training programs will be edited in succeeding project cycles to produce user-friendly training manuals in video format on following arts and crafts.

  • Torma (butter sculpture)
    An important form of monastic art, the torma of different sizes and shapes are prepared for various rituals for different deities.
  • Thread work
    In this significant ritualistic art, threads of different colours are wound around bamboo frames. 
  • Sand mandala
    The making of sand mandala is a complex form of Buddhist ritualistic art. The monk trainees were taught the basics of drawing a sand mandala diagram of different sizes, shapes and color depending on the ritualistic requirements of different deities each adopting different themes such as peace, prosperity, power and wrath. The students are taught the process of grinding white stone chips into powder and traditional method and process of making color powder for use in sand mandala drawings.

During the second project implementation cycle, the local project team established the following:

  • Continuing training programs in wood crafts, calligraphy and drawing are being conducted by expert craftsmen trainers.
  • Cleaning, documentation and cataloguing of the center’s wood block library consisting of over 2500 woodblocks, leading to the reproduction of xylographs on traditional paper in the succeeding project cycles.
  • Training of four lamas from the Sa Ngor Chotshog Center at the Ngorpa Headquarters in Dehradun on ritualistic arts, such as the Yamantaka Togyab ritual (used to overcome misfortune and calamities), hymn recitation and playing of musical instruments. After their return to Sikkim, the four lamas passed on their acquired knowledge to other monks in the centre. As a result, the monastery was able to perform the Yamantaka Puja (ritual) for the first time since the center was established in 1961.