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Gurapura - The Carpets of Tibet

… an ancient art in a new tradition The flight of the Dalai Lama from Tibet in 1959 ushered in a new dawn for 60000 Tibetan people who chose not to remain under Chinese political influence.

A European sponsored resettlement campaign headed by Prince Bernard of the Netherlands, supported by the United Nations High Commission for refugees and assisted by coordinated funds coming from 18 countries began its work of rehabilitation.

3000 of those Tibetans went to the Indian State of Orissa, 3000 to Madhya Pradesh, another 3000 to Maharashtra. Thousands more were settled in West Bengal, a few hundred went to Canada and others to Switzerland but the greatest number, about 30000, live in the State of Karnataka in southern India at five distinct settlements. Gurapura, one of the major settlements lies about 50 miles west of Mysore City. Here about 3000 refugees have been living, working and recreating an ancient lifestyle since 1971. Comprised of 15 villages, 32 houses to a village and approximately 5 people to a house, Gurapura consists of 4000 acres of cleared land on which maize is cultivated. Carpets are made in the old traditional way and Tantric Buddhism is taught and studied in the only metaphysical college complex to be transferred in its entirety, complete with all its sacred books, from Tibet. The ancient cultures are still preserved, festivals and religious dances go on as they have for centuries.

The land was given buy the Indian Government under the conditions whereas for every 4000 acres donated, 4000 landless Indian people would also be taken into consideration and accommodated. Thus you see in Gurapura, many Indian families living side by side in harmony with Tibetans.

The average family works 3 to 4 acres of land, cultivating their own crops which they sell to the combine that markets their product. Every one seems happy in Gurapura. There are lots of smiling faces and the old traditional songs accompany the carpet making.

The monks, numbering about 200 conform to every image conceived about Tibetan red-robed priests. They, too, work the fields in between metaphysical speculations.

The Dalai Lama visits once a year and as spiritual leader occupies his own residence situated next to the Tantric College which is part of the monastery of Zongkar Chode, meaning ‘White Castle’. All settlements exist under the umbrella of the Home Office in Dharmsala in the State of Himachal Pradesh and bureaus of information, education, religion and service management are well organized. The children are taught Hindi and English as well as their native tongue.

Exotic Carpets

Tibetan carpets have an ancient background and take their place among the better Oriental carpets available throughout the world. Rich vibrant colours and bold traditional design motifs, influenced strongly by Buddhism, are their distinguishing feature, yet others are evident.

The Dragon, influenced by China, is representative of divine wisdom. The Lotus, a symbol of regeneration is used extensively in the central medallions and the corner decorations. Sometimes the right angled Swastika, representative of evolution is seen along with prayer flags, ribbons, boxes etc., The slightly raised design effect is almost three dimensional and the carpet becomes an object of increasing beauty and interest.

Traditionally, Tibetans used their carpets mainly as a seat or bed, sometimes as a wall piece. Many designs are made for ritual use as objects to aid meditation.

The Tibetan’s association with the rich cultural flow along the silk route from circa 550 BC to 600 AD and the impact of the Central Asian landscape with which they had a close affiliation, are no doubt reasons why the drama of line and colour is so vividly presented.

Historically, there existed around 600 BC to 500 BC a society in the Tarim basin, adjacent to Tibet. These people absorbed the knowledge and traditions of Persia, India and China in their arts. The proto-Tibetan peoples lived in the midst of this society during that time. The White Huns, descending from Siberia, wiped out most of this civilization. The remaining Tibetans were forced to retreat to their plateau. But under the Tibetan pastoral society that was to endure for 2000 years, the knowledge and traditions of the Tarim were preserved.

The Tibetan carpet is thus a link with the traditions of a remote era in history. The basic technique in their creation is the Senna loop, dating back to 11th Dynasty Egypt. It survives only in Tibet and Scandinavia.

Hand loomed from pure Punjabi wool, the resilient, thick pile of a quality Tibetan carpet is unequalled in sheer durability by any other carpet produced today and will last at least 100 years with proper care.

The Statue that Spoke

An uncanny story surrounds the original Zongkar Chode Monastery in Tibet, prior to its re-establishment at Gurapura. A small wooden statue of the Goddess Tara, the ‘mother of wisdom’, who, in Tibetan metaphysics, personifies ‘mystic knowledge’, had always been revered at the monastery. About 20 years prior to the annexation of Tibet by China, the Statue ‘spoke’ for the first time.

It revealed that difficult times were ahead for Tibet. That particular prophesy came true. It spoke again prior to the exodus of the monastery personnel from Tiber. Its words were quite enigmatic: - I AM GOING BACK TO WHERE I CAME FROM”.

The monks fled form Zongkar Chode via Nepal to Dalhousie in Northern India and later, by arrangement with the authorities, managed to settle in Gurapura. Some time later, they requested that two men be allowed to return to a spot on the Nepalese/Tibetan border to bring back certain valuable, spiritual artifacts which had been buried and hidden during their swift departure. Permission was granted for this journey. Eventually they returned with the small wooden statue of the Goddess Tara. The figurine was found to be made of sandalwood; the kind that grows only in the forests of Hunsur district where Gurapura is situated. The statue had been returned to the place where its wood had come form – centuries ago!

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