Tibetan arts and culture are kept alive at Sidhpur's Norbulingka Institute in a beautiful setting, Dharamshala, India. Photo: TPI/Anisha Joneja

Arts and Culture
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Dharamshala, India — Located in Sidhpur, a suburb of Dharamshala, about 30 minutes from Mcleodganj, stands the Norbulingka Institute. The institute, erected for the revival of Tibetan culture and art, stands tall and proud.

Norbulingka, which means Jewel Park in Tibetan, takes its name from the Summer Residence of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa, Tibet, which is known for its beautiful gardens and also a center of religious art.

The Norbulingka Institute was founded in 1990, by Kelsang Yeshi, Minister of the Department of Religion and Culture, and his wife Kim Yeshi, for the revival of the Tibetan art, and to provide a space for artists to practice their art. They imagined an institute in India, which would return Tibetan art to its former glory following the strictest standards in terms of the selection of materials, quality of craftsmanship, and adherence to traditional methods.

To experience a peaceful retreat from the ongoing bustle in the rest of Dharamshala, Norbulingka is situated among gardens that bloom with flowers and you can hear tiny streams babbling all around the institute with a picturesque view of the Dhauladhar Ranges in the distance. The buildings in the institute are constructed in the architectural style of following a ground plan based on the proportions of the 1,000 Armed Avoalkitesvra, or the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

The campus is a blend of water and earth together, and the groves of bamboo are sure to make you feel Zen and a part of nature. The Institute also houses a Temple, a Doll Museum and various craft workshops including Thangka Painting, Appliqué, Wood Carving, Wood Painting, Statue Making, Screen Printing, Sewing, Tailoring, and Weaving.

The Norbulingka Institute was officially inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1995. Now, more than 20 years later, all the original master and patrons of the Institute have passed away and it is the students who carry the legacy forward. The quality of the craftsmanship remains at the highest standard.

The values of the Institute are about design, quality, and tradition. Every product has a story to tell through its materials, processes, and themes. From raw material to finished product, Norbulingka is about care and tradition. The artists that do thangka painting here sometimes take one or two months to finish a painting. The colors used are manufactured using locally available natural pigments.

These paintings are intricate and are drawn with precise measurements. Thangka is religious art. These paintings are not only valued for their aesthetic beauty but also are used as aids in meditational practices. At Norbulingka, artists practice Menri, which is characterized by life-like colors and a focus on a central figure surrounded by significant events or people in his life.

Norbulingka Institute also houses a temple called the Deden Tsuglagkhang Temple. The path that leads to the temple has ponds on both sides lead by streams. The streams turn at the prayer wheel before moving into the ponds. The prayer flags blow in the wind, carrying prayers with them. The temple, one of the most serene ones in Dharamshala, has a 14 feet gilded copper Buddha statue made by the Norbulingka Sculpture Studio. The murals on the wall surrounding it are also made by Thangka Painters.

To the left of the temple is the Losel Doll Museum. The museum houses a unique collection of about 150 dolls. The exhibit includes navigation in Tibet, a native family, and market scenes in Lhasa, Lhamo-Opera, and Cham Dance. Certain exhibits depict Ambdo, the land of snows, as it is known for its grasslands and horses; the attire of the Kongpo people that is different from the ensemble worn in rest of Tibet; and the lives of the nomads of the northern plains. Miniature tents depict yak hair, the dwellings of nomads who lived off the produce from yak, dzo (a cross between the cow and the yak), and sheep and bartered milk, butter, meat and wool for ‘tsampa’ –roasted flour, and other commodities.

An exhibit ‘picnic and leisure’ is a scene from Lhasa in the 1940s. One can find people playing traditional board games and drinking ‘chang’ or tea. Dolls dressed in silk and woolen robes, holding prayer wheels and rosaries, including paintings of snow-clad mountains behind the exhibits, bring life to the display.

At the Norbulingka Institute, there is so much to see and explore, that will transport you right to the lanes of Tibet. They have a café and a restaurant with exquisite Tibetan and Indian food. The servers wear their traditional Chuba and offer you help wherever required.

Norbulingka offers a host of workshops – short term and long term – to take in order to learn all the arts that are taught here. They offer customised workshops for groups and individuals. There is no application process for the workshops, the guests can join whenever and stay till whenever their schedule allows. During the duration of the workshop, the guests can stay on campus at Norling House where each room is designed after motifs like dragons, snow leopards, ibexes and so on.

At the Institute, there is also a gift shop that has products made by students of the various workshops. Norbulingka is a community with a sustainable business model and a strong social mission: keeping Tibetan culture alive by training people for the future. All proceeds from all of their business sections go directly back into running the institute.

Norbulingka is keeping alive centuries old Tibetan traditions in content, form, and process by providing apprenticeships in traditional Tibetan art forms and making Tibetan experience accessible for a contemporary lifestyle.