Reportage

 

Drukpa

The Drukpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism was founded in 1206 after Drogon Tsangpa Gyare, (Drogon - 'Protector of Beings'; Tsang - 'born in the land of Tsang'; Gya - 'from the noble clan of Chinese (Gya) origin'; Re - 'a cotton-clad yogi') after he saw nine dragons fly into the sky from the ground at Namdruk. He is known as the First Gyalwang Drukpa & is recognized as the indisputable emanation of Naropa (1016–1100). Jigme Pema Wangchen is the twelfth & present incarnation of the Gyalwang Drukpa. His work includes promoting gender equality, establishing educational institutes, medical clinics & medication centers as well as promoting environmentalism & rebuilding several heritage sites in the Himalayas. It was an honour for me to have been invited by His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa to document the 5th Annual Drukpa Council held at Hemis Gompa in Ladakh, India.

Monasteries of Ladakh

Buddhism spread into western Ladakh, literally meaning "Land of high passes" - along the Indus river valley from Kashmir in the 2nd century, when much of eastern Ladakh & western Tibet was still practising the Bon religion. A remote sparsely populated region, Ladakh gained importance by being situated at the crossroads of important trade routes. Buddhism took hold & many stunning monasteries sprung up over the centuries, often perched high on rocky outcrops.

This is an ongoing project, to document the sacred architecture of the region & it's place in the landscape. Initially documenting the history & legacy of the Drukpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism in the region, the project has expanded to include important Buddhist monasteries of other orders. It further addresses the fact that it is now Islam that spreads west along the Indus valley from Kashmir into Ladakh, resulting in rapid changes in the spiritual, social & demographic landscape of the region.

Sari Weavers of Varanasi

Long considered the finest Saree in India, the silk weavers of Varanasi have been handing down their knowledge & their skills from father to son for 6 centuries. Hand-woven Banarasi saree are most famous for their "Kincob" or brocade style, most picturesquely described as "cloth of gold", where a fine base of silk threads hold together intricate gold or silver designs, often with opulent embroidery.

Due to the mass production of cheaper & inferior, machine-woven saree from factories in China, it is becoming harder & harder for these artisans to make a living. Sons no longer want to follow in their fathers' footsteps, often preferring a more secure "government job" that provides more financial stability. I was lucky enough to spend time with two families of weavers & glimpse in awe at the skills they have honed over centuries, & the beauty of their disappearing craft.

Varanasi Sunrise

A golden, silent "snapshot" of early morning life, both sacred & profane, along the ghats of India's holiest city - Varanasi. Shot from a small rowing boat at sunrise, in one take, on one morning, from & at the pace of Ganga Maiya (Mother Ganga) the embodiment of all sacred waters in Hindu mythology.

The water is held so sacred that Hindus believe that rituals performed by the river multiply in their blessedness. Hindu scriptures say that the sight, the name, and the touch of Ganga cleanses one of all sins, & taking a dip in the holy Ganga bestows heavenly blessings.

In the Vedic version of the Avatarana, Indra, the Lord of Svarga (Heaven) slays the celestial serpent, Vritra, releasing the celestial liquid, the soma, or the nectar of the gods which then plunges to the Earth.

As the Ganges descended from Heaven to Earth she is also the vehicle of ascent, from Earth to Heaven & the crossing point of all beings, the living as well as the dead. No place along her banks is more longed for at the moment of death by Hindus than Varanasi, the Great Cremation Ground, or Mahashmashana. Those who are lucky enough to die in Varanasi, are cremated on the banks of the Ganga & are granted salvation.

 

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