04 November 2011

Symbols part one

Tibetan prayer flags: These colorful cloths, hung all around outside between the branches of trees, are printed with prayers and left outside forever. The idea is that, as natural elements slowly break the prayer flags down, threads of prayer flag will fly around the world to bless people everywhere.

Om mani padme hum: This is the Dalai Lama's mantra of compassion. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the god of compassion, and this mantra (which, literally translated,  means "the god from the lotus flower" as far as I gathered) is chanted like a prayer. It is everywhere--engraved on the rocks around the kora, printed on little flaps of fabric on my host family's front door, and sung in songs that shopkeepers play on the streets.

I learned "tashi delek" as a greeting, much like the way we use "hello." What I learned in McLeod is that tashi delek was not a normal greeting in Tibet. It was reserved for the special holiday Losar, Tibetan new year, and it was not used at any other time. (Think about it--do we ever say "happy new year" to people except on the days directly surrounding January 1?) It literally means something along the lines of "best wishes." The usage of the term as a casual greeting, however, is unique to the exiled Tibetan community.

Oh, the cow. Cows are not sacred to Tibetans--only Indians--but because the Tibetans are living in India, they are respectful of the animal. This cow is hanging out in the middle of the kora because he can, not because it's really a legitimate place for a cow to be. They have carte blanche in the town. They wander around and eat whatever they can find all day long. Beef is, of course, illegal, but I heard that there's a black market in Delhi. Apparently it wasn't so hard to come by in McLeod, either.

This woman is putting a khalag, a white silk scarf, around the neck of a member of the wedding party. This is the wedding ceremony itself--the bride and groom and family sat on a couch and every wedding guest came to place scarves around their necks. The hostess also tied scarves around our necks when we left the wedding. When a family member leaves for or returns from a long trip, the family will give a white scarf. When I left my host family, we all exchanged khalags. (I think that picture will be in part 2)

A pangden, the striped colorful apron. This is my Julia friend in her beautiful chupa and pangden. I don't have one because the Tibetans in exile only wear a pangden when they are married. It's much harder to miss than a wedding ring. This is another cultural symbol unique to the exile community--a pangden in Tibet simply means that a girl has come of age (which is why the unmarried Miss Tibet contestants all wore them). In India, however, the symbol has changed.

This woman is spinning a giant prayer wheel. They were originally created for illiterate Buddhists to be able to participate in prayer (since they couldn't read them) but they have now become entrenched in Buddhist tradition. Each wheel contains a prayer written inside of it, and a single full clockwise rotation is the equivalent of praying. Spinning the prayer wheels clockwise while walking clockwise around the kora is, for many Tibetans, a daily ritual.

Om mani padme hum, the Dalai Lama's mantra of compassion, in someone's rear window.

This Hindu monk has his hand in the gyan mudra position, one that we practiced every day at yoga and meditation. The gyan mudra position helps the mind to meditate and improve concentration. It will remove headache, insomnia, stress, and anger. The gyan mudra position will also help to reduce negative thoughts.

Prayer wheel instructions.

Butter candles. These ones at the Dalai Lama's temple are always lit, but the one in our house was only lit during the most auspicious month of the year, specifically June. They are an aid to meditation and offer light to the world. The idea of an everlasting flame as a tribute to His Holiness exists in a single enclosed lamp in the middle of the kora.

This is the endless knot, one of the eight auspicious symbols that are very popular in Tibetan design. This one is the most popular though, showing up in architecture and artwork all over the town.

This is om, the symbol of the universe, in Hindi script. It is the mystical force that runs everything (an idea which I name God) and exists as the same word in both Tibetan and Hindi. This particular symbol was painted by my yoga teacher on the wall of his studio when he was bored one summer. We spent a lot of time chanting "om" over and over, chanting cleaning mantras with the word "om," and saying "om, shanti shanti shanti" at the end of every yoga class. Fun fact: did you know that T.S. Eliot's modernist poem "The Waste Land" ends with the words "shantih, shantih, shantih"? Just like the end of yoga class.

The peacock feather is significant to Indians (and many Asians) as a symbol of good fortune. My yoga teacher hung this fan on the window of his studio to invite good fortune to grace his livelihood. They also had a decorative function, adding to the ambiance of the studio.

Five of the Eight Auspicious Symbols 
(Found in art all over McLeod)

The parasol dome is a symbol of wisdom and the sash below is a symbol of compassion, a central idea in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. The parasol represents the union of wisdom and compassion.

This is the treasure vase, full of wealth and various treasures. It is associated with storage and material satisfaction as well as Buddha's spiritual plenty.

The conch (also symbolic in the Hindu faith), is for calling people together for religious purposes.

The victory banner is a symbol of Buddha's enlightenment, the end of ignorance and the beginning of knowledge. It is also a symbol of Buddha's victory over hurdles, or negative traits, the Maras.

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The golden fish represent happiness since they are free as they swim about in the water. Since they swim in a pair, they also represent fertility and fidelity.

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