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La Orotava Corpus Christi Festival 2006

Buddhist monks on the steps of the Town Hall in La Orotava

This year, the town of La Orotava, in the north of Tenerife, held its traditional Corpus Christi celebration on the 22nd June. To conclude the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Orotava's foundation, the town organised a Congreso Internacional de Alfombristas (International Congress of Tapestry Artists) with participants from other Spanish towns, from Europe, Asia and America.

The congress, entitled “El arte efímero de las alfombras de flores y tierras en el mundo” (The ephemeral art of flower and soil tapestries), brought together artists from Muhlenbach (Germany), Brussels (Belgium), Genzano di Roma (Italy), Kobe (Japan), Huamantla (Mexico), Texas (U.S.A.) and representation from Tibet.

Uniting Buddhism & Catholicism in La Orotava

In La Orotava in Tenerife, it has been the custom, every year since 1847, to make sand carpets as part of the celebrations for the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi. Such sandpainting is also traditionally practiced by, among others, Tibetan monks. This is certainly an historical first: Buddhist monks from the south of India are making a mandala, dedicated to compassion, in the plaza in front of the town hall in Orotava. This is where the main sand carpet is made each year.

This year, for the very first time, the local alfombristas (carpet makers) are leaving space to include other works. And five Buddhist monks, most from a monastery in the south of India, have been making one of their characteristic mandalas in one of the corners of the plaza. The idea is of sandpainting as a symbol of the union of cultures. The delegation, headed by the director of the Casa del Tibet in Barcelona, Thubten Wangchen, was invited to participate in this international meeting of ephemeral art by the La Orotava town hall.

The presence of the Tibetan monks in La Orotava caused much expectation. As a sacred art - mandalas have a spiritual value - the monks perform a ritual before commencing work. The Mandala, which is Sanskrit for circle, polygon, community and connection, uses many colours, which represents a positive energy to develop the heart. And, although there are many types of mandala, Wangchen said that they chose compassion, because "it is a value we need a lot of in the world at the moment." The monks will take between three and five days to complete the mandala, a circular composition utilizing six main colours in various tones and which is being made on the floor over a wooden support. The fact that they do not - as the local sand carpet makers do - paint directly onto the pavement, is a matter of purity and respect for the sacred art.

Also, the mandala will not be destroyed by the Corpus Christi procession, as the local sand and flower carpets are. Once finished, the sand from a mandala is brushed together and is usually placed in a body of running water - such as a river or the sea - to spread the blessings of the Mandala. Thubten Wangchen emphasized that, "We are going to spiritually unite two cultures."

Buddhist Monks and the main alfombra in La Orotava 2006

Muhlenbach (Germany)

Brussels (Belgium)

Genzano di Roma (Italy)

Kobe (Japan)

Huamantla (Mexico)

Carpet made by the visiting carpet makers from Barcelona.