A journey of art and devotion to Tara with Dr. Sarika Singh and Master Locho

- through Francois Leclercq

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The Alchi Green Tara at the Alchi monastic complex in Ladakh. Image courtesy of Peter Van Ham

My trip across India during the months of September and October was a magical series of meetings: with Tai Situ Rinpoche; with the Ganden Tripa; and with Green Tara herself. My meeting with the female Buddha, first at the Alchi monastic complex in Ladakh, led me to meet a couple of artists based in Dharamsala, the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. The Thangka School of Painting and the Museum of Himalayan Art are institutions that teach and preserve the art of please paint. I met the founders of the school and museum, Master Locho and Dr. Sarika Singh, for lunch and a tour of the museum. They are a husband and wife who have left a considerable mark on the world of Indo-Tibetan art.

Master Locho is an eminent please guru who dedicated his life to preserving and promoting endangered Buddhist art. Master Locho studied under the direction of Master Tempa Choephel, professor at the prestigious Norbulingka Institute located in Dharamsala. He later became an acclaimed name at his school called please preservation of the lineage. Its majestic blue Medicine Buddha please still welcomes people at the arrival hall of Kangra Airport, and he was once the official please painter of the Dalai Lama.

The Alchi monastery complex. Image courtesy of Peter Van Ham

My day with Master Locho and Dr. Singh was not complete without a guided painting session with the former. During this informal introductory lesson, Master Locho shared with me some secrets for painting the Sun and Moon as motifs, the correct placement of Om Ah Hum behind the deities, and how to identify a Buddhist lineage in each please. When I asked him if he had encountered any difficulties as one of the founders please teachers at the Norbulingka Art Institute, he simply replied: “Yes, it was difficult.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Singh is the only qualified woman please master in today's world, approved by His Holiness. This qualification is unique in that she is female, non-Tibetan and generally not based in Dharamshala. Together they are the creators of a stunning series of paintings depicting the evolution of Tara, the female Buddha of compassion, wisdom and enlightenment.

The author with Dr Sarika Singh and Master Locho. Image courtesy of Rebecca Wong

In our interview, Dr. Sarika shared with me her challenges in following her heart to paint thanks. “I studied at the Norbulingka Institute for a few years, and in my studio I sat with almost 30 men. My first drawings included several pencil drawings and paintings,” she told me. “I broke several conventions during my journey. The first convention was that I always wanted more women to join please painting, because there were so few of them. Secondly, as I learned this discipline, I moved away from long courses, which were the only modules available. I began to develop, structure and personalize short courses so that more people could connect with this tradition and it could remain alive.

Another convention that Singh challenged was how she helped develop the use of textbooks in please painting classes, as they were initially not accessible to students. Throughout this journey, she faced the overarching challenge of creating a space where non-Tibetans and women could create space for this art, regardless of their nationality, location and gender. “So when you face so many challenges, you need strength,” Singh said. “And this strength, this lady, this divinity, this beauty, it was Tara. She became my strength, my light, my beacon.

Sarika Singh and Master Locho stand before her and the replica of Master Locho's Alchi Tara as Prajnaparamita. Image courtesy of Sarika Singh

The Tara series of paintings are on display in the museum's Tara Gallery, which also features a very impressive collection of thanks directed by Maître Locho. I was amazed by the royal ambiance of the Tara gallery. It features nine masterpieces, through the image of Tara, that depict the journey of Buddhist art from India to Tibet and back, highlighting the cross-cultural influence that began in the East but which has since returned to nourish Indian soil. These thanks are painted in gold, silver and minerals, and feature magnificent Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that left me in awe. Currently, 40 masterpieces are on display at the museum, which took the couple more than 20 years to assemble.

I asked him for inspiration for this gallery, in particular. “I was once in Staten Island, New York, where I visited a museum called Jessie Marcus. I was so inspired by the Tara exhibition that I felt like I had created this museum, perhaps in my previous life. But certainly, in my current life, I knew that the seed had been planted that I needed to create a museum to tell my own story.

To further promote please painting, Singh is set to launch an online platform please-painting program.

The author and the replica Alchi Tara. Image courtesy of Rebecca Wong

The third of the paintings in the Tara Gallery series is a replica of the Green Tara of Alchi as Prajnaparamita, a rare and exquisite mural hidden at the foot of a colossal statue of Avalokitesvara in the Sumstek Hall of the complex from Alchi. This was the same Tara I had met earlier on my trip (see my previous post). Master Locho said he has painted more than 300 Green Taras, but his replica of the Alchi Tara is special: "She exudes deep kindness and compassion, the most beautiful, like no other." » It took five years to complete. He explained that he used natural pigments and gold to recreate the vibrant colors and intricate details of the original mural. He also added some elements of his own vision, like a hair ornament with a pair of golden ducks on his head.

The steps to follow to create the replica. Image courtesy of Sarika Singh

Although Tara is commonly associated with Tibetan Buddhism, Singh believes the Indian connection to the goddess runs deep, and she is right: after all, the earliest evidence of Tara worship is found in India. (Lam 2014) “After 17 years of learning please in painting, I determined to reestablish this beautiful origin, the Indian origin which is close to my heart. My research into early examples of Indian art led me to the Ajanta Caves, which I felt were calling to me. Every time I went to Ajanta, I felt like I had been there in a past life,” Singh said. “Every time I went there, I could easily relive the lives of these artists who worked tirelessly to translate Buddhist philosophy into visual representations. I absorbed a lot of the Ajanta style.

Her journey changed again when she visited the mystical monastic complex of Alchi. “I entered the Sumtsek Hall and was immediately struck by the mural of Tara. I had already heard of this Tara. I had already drawn it. To my amazement, she looked exactly the same as I had drawn her. She was so close to me. No words could describe this feeling, that she had called me here to give me her blessings. It was as if he was saying, “You’ve done the drawing now. Look at me as much as you can, then go back and fill in the colors.' » She believes Tara told her in her own celestial language, for she is a divine presence beyond human words: "So we went back and Master Locho, and I finished our Tara painting in five years.

It's no surprise that Singh appreciates this mystical connection with Alchi Tara, something I also felt while I was in Alchi. She pointed out her distinct features: “Do you see how she looks to one side, whereas in most iconography we have Taras looking directly forward? So here she is at a 45 degree angle, and you'll also see that her clothing style is very different, indicating a unique blend of iconography that developed in Alchi at a unique time in history. Such iconography was also found in Tabo, says Singh. “And we can only say that this is a very distinct style from the approximately 1 monasteries that developed in the Himalayan region. »

Variations in the iconography of Tara. Image courtesy of Sarika Singh

Singh points out that although Himalayan monasteries would have been frequently attacked or looted, no one touched Alchi. “Maybe it was too isolated; you also have to cross a river to get there. This means that the artists had to be of a particular caliber and vision, and this is evident in their unusual works of art: palm trees, nobles hunting and feasting at a banquet, robes and tunics with leonine patterns and braided hair: they seem to be from Central Asia. , perhaps Persian: “The colors and style of the painting are not typically Tibetan. Rather, they seem influenced by techniques imported from as far west as Byzantium.

As we conclude our conversation, Singh once again draws my attention to the magnificence of the Alchi Tara: "I would say it is one of the most beautiful depictions of the female Buddha that the artist could have given life. » She also considers herself a student of the Indian roots of the art that she loves so much, as well as the various intersections of different cultures (Persian, Indian, Kashmiri, Tibetan…): “So, this geographical intersection through time , as well as because the intersection of beauty and divinity, I would say, was one of the most beautiful things that touched me.

My conversation with Singh left me with a richer insight into the world of please the painting and importance of Green Tara in Buddhist art. As one of my teachers, Tai Situ Rinpoche, said: “Art is not only about creating something beautiful, but it is also about creating something meaningful. It's about creating something that is meaningful and can inspire others. Perhaps the essence of the Buddhist art is to reveal the gem to the ready practitioner, who possesses the correct vision.

References

Raymond Lam. 2014. “Legitimization of Legitimization: Tārā’s Assimilation of Masculine Qualities in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and the Feminist “Recovery” of Theological Discourse.” " In Feminist theology 22, 2. Accessed at: https://doi.org/10.1177/0966735013507853

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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