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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Butter Sculpture Festival

Every year a butter sculpture festival is held in Tar monastery, located in the northwest province of Qinghai in China to celebrate the Tibetan New Year. During the this period which normally runs from mid February to early March , Tibetans and tourists alike throng the Tar temple to witness butter sculptures of various shapes and colours and skillful embroidery arts.

Butter sculpture originated from Tibet and was introduced to the Tar Monastery, also known as Kumbum Monastery, in the early 17th century. Many monasteries in China make butter sculptures, but those of Tar excel in technique and scale.

Legend says that in 641, when Princess Wencheng arrived in Lhasa to marry Songtsen Gampo, king of Tubo, she brought a statue in the shape of Sakyamuni, founder of Buddhism.

Following the Buddhist tradition, flowers must be offered as a tribute to the Buddha statue. But it was deep winter and no fresh flowers could be found. So people made a bunch of flowers with butter as an offering.

In 1409, founder of the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism, who was born in today's Huangzhong County where the Tar Monastery was founded, held the Grand Sermons Ceremony in Lhasa.

He dreamed of thorny bushes turning into bright lanterns, weeds bursting into blossom amid numerous shiny treasures.

When he woke up, the great master immediately asked his followers to make the treasures and flowers as he had dreamed and offered them to the Buddha.

With pure yak and goat milk butter as the raw material, the sculptures are painted with mineral dyestuff. Often the sculptures are part of a series which depict a story, such as the life of Sakyamuni.

As the butter sculpture art entered the Tar Monastery in 1603, two academies devoted to its creation and study have been established. Every year, when the Grand Sermons Ceremony is held here during the Lantern Festival, the two academies bring out their best works

How the scultpures are made

The making of butter sculpture is a daunting task. As butter made from yak or goat milk melts in warm weather, butter sculpture has to be made in the coldest months of the year.

To sculpt butter, lamas must dip their hands in icy water. Only with numb hands can they begin the sculpting.

Over the past centuries, the art of butter sculpture has become very specialized: Making people, animals and flowers has each become a tradition requiring different techniques.

In sub-zero temperature rooms, the elderly lamas and their students first prepare the frame of sculpture with bamboo sticks, ropes and others. Then they mix old butter sculptures with wheat ashes to form black mud, which is used to make the primitive body of the sculptures.

After modifying the base, the lamas will apply colourful butter onto it. The figurines are outlined with gold and silver powder. Finally the small parts are fixed onto the frame with iron wire.

As the creation lasts some three months in winter, many lamas have found their fingers deformed by the time a grand display is prepared

Friday, October 7, 2011

Nepal Boy 'God'

A five-year-old Nepali boy, worshipped by many as a god, sits cross-legged with a stuffed teddy bear in his brick-and-cement home in Kathmandu.

Sambeg Shakya was hailed last year by Buddhist priests as Ganesh, or the god of good fortune, since when he has led several processions of Nepal's better-known 'living goddesses', also known as Kumari.

Today, skinny Sambeg, his eyes rimmed in black kohl and wearing a gold brocade dress, walked at the head of a line of nine tiny girls to another girl believed to be the bodily incarnation of Taleju, the goddess of power.

The centuries-old ritual, once used by now-toppled kings who thought it would make them stronger, was the climax of the annual Hindu festival of Dasain, which lasts for two weeks and has become a major tourist attraction in Nepal.

Sambeg will continue in his supporting role until he is big enough to fit in a chariot pulled by men, after which he must return to real life.

"I want to become a doctor," Sambeg, his long hair tied in a bun on top with a peacock feather planted on it, told Reuters.

He is in grade one, the first of ten years in high school.

His father Bishwo Prakash said his family will help the boy pursue the studies he chooses.

"He is very bright and good at learning. He does not forget what is told to him once," Prakash said. "I am very happy that my son plays the divine role."

Prakash said his son likes porridge, biscuits, goat and buffalo meat, but must not eat chicken or eggs.

The government pays US$63 a month to meet Sambeg's living costs, but his family said the money was not enough.

"The government must increase the allowances to cover the living costs and education of the child who plays a culturally significant role," Prakash said

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Buddhist Practice A Secret To Longevity

A 112 year-old nun who lives in central Taiwan's Nantou County, one of two oldest people in Taiwan, said that the secret of her longevity is her lifetime of Buddhist practice.

Liu Ching-huan, who was born in China's Sichuan Province, arrived in Taiwan with the remnants of the late President Chiang Kai-shek's forces as a young girl and was ordained at a Buddhist temple in 1965 in the county's Puli Township.

Although the centenarian is confined to a wheelchair, she is in good overall health, according to the caregiver who has been taking care of Liu since August last year at a government-funded nursing home.

Last month, Liu also traveled on the Taiwan High Speed Railway to attend the Face of Changing Phase, a photo exhibition highlighting Taiwan's centenarians and the Republic of China centennial, the caregiver said.

Liu, who has spent her life devoted to Buddhist practices, still likes to read the classics and religious books, the care center said.

"Chanting Namo Amitofo" is the secret to a long life, Liu told Nantou Magistrate Lee Chao-ching, who presented the centenarian with a cash gift, a gold pendant and a peach-shaped "Shoutao," a bun of longevity traditionally used to celebrate the birthdays of elders.

Lin Jung-sen, director-general of the county government's department of social affairs, said the other oldest living woman -- coincidentally the same age as Liu -- lives in Hulaien County, eastern Taiwan.

There are currently 42 centenarians -- 13 men and 29 women -- in Nantou

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Japan's Ex PM On Pilmigrage Journey

Japan's unpopular former prime minister Naoto Kan has swapped high politics and power suits for a Buddhist pilgrimage of 88 ancient temples on the island of Shikoku.

Armed with a pilgrim's peaked straw hat, white shirt and walking stick, the former leader was spotted visiting Enmeiji temple, the 54th spot on the pilgrimage route, according to reports.

It is not the first time Mr Kan has swapped politics for pilgrimages: he followed the same path in July 2004, when he was forced to step down as leader of the Democratic Party of Japan over a scandal relating to unpaid pensions premiums.

On that occasion, he shaved his hair, donned his pilgrim's outfit and dutifully embarked on the same temple route in Shikoku, an ancient 1,200km loop which is among the most famous of Japan's pilgrimages.

During his current pilgrimage – taking off from where he finished before – Mr Kan is travelling solo aside from security officers and is most likely staying in spartan rural temples and blending in with other crowds of Buddhist pilgrims.

When asked what was on his mind, Mr Kan gave no indication that he was seeking repentance for his political performance and plummeting popularity during his one-year tenure as prime minister.