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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Uniting Buddhism & Catholicism in La Orotava

Buddhist monks on the steps of the Town Hall 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 Cristi. 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 similar works. And, since yesterday, the five Buddhist monks, most of whom are 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 yesterday 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 Cristi procession next Thursday, 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. Saying that they are very content to be here, Thubten Wangchen emphasized that, "We are going to spiritually unite two cultures."