Festivals in Samye Monastery, Tibet: A Photographic Exhibition
Photographer: He Beili
Curator: Wang Mingming
The 50 photos exhibited here are selected from more than 20,000 pictures taken by Dr. He Beili in Samye Monastery in Shannan of Tibet. He Beili, the photographer, is an anthropologist specialized in the study of Tibetan civilization. She had been an ardent traveler and freelance photographer many years before she went to study anthropology. In 2008, She was admitted into the Ph.D program of social anthropology in the Institute of Sociology and Anthropology at Peking University. She chose to focus upon the anthropology of Tibet civilization. In 2011, He Beili conducted an eight-month-long field study in Samye Monastery in Ngagzha County, Lhoka Prefecture, Tibet. On the basis of her findings, she completed a thesis entitled “Sumeru Mountain and Lha Klu Gnyan: A Study of Ritual Space in Samye Monastery in Gra-Nang County, Shannan Prefecture, Tibet". The thesis won high praise from the degree examination committee. He Beili was awarded her doctorate in 2012.
The "dharma assembly" festivals are core to the religious life of the monks in the monastery of Samye, Traditionally, they are held in the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th and 9th months in Tibetan calendar. However, the tshes-bcu-dang-vbrel-bavi-mdo-sdevi-gar-vcham in the 1st month comes but once every twelve year (only held in the year of Monkey), and the assembly in the 9th month has recently been "suspended" due to the "shortage" of monks familiar with the relevant scriptures and performing skills. Hence, during her field work, He Beili only observed four "dharma assembly" festivals. These are: dgar-rdo-rje assembly in the 3rd month, Padmasambhava assembly in April, mdo-sde-dang-vbrel-bavi-tshes-bcuvi-gar-vcham in the 5th month and rdo-rje-phur-pa assembly in the 7th month.
Each of the "dharma assembly" festivals in Samye comprises a sequence of highly complicated ceremonial procedures, a complete photographic coverage of which is impossible. In planning the exhibition, He Beili took the strategy of "selective representation". The photographer, setting aside the chronological order of the festivity, illustrates the four events by means of visualizing only the key steps, shared contents, and special scenarios of the ceremonies: scripture recitation and debating, vcham exercise, gtorma shaping, mchod "production", sand mandala construction, fire puja offering, annual consecration, vcham performance……
The exhibition may be said to be a kind of “photographic ethnography”. It reveals a significant part of the civilization in the Tibetan Plateau through recording certain moments of life in Samye Monastery, Tibet’s earliest monastery of Triratna (Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha).