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I had had the opportunity to have several conversations with a senior monk at the Zurmang Kagyud Monastery. I asked and he answered.
For years I had entertained a fledgeling thought of spending time at a monastery – but the thought never got time or life-space to develop and remained a latent, unarticulated unformed idea. As I spoke to the Lama, I remembered this thought and asked if it was possible to stay at a monastery as a guest. He said it is possible, and also mentioned a nunnery that was just around the hill corner – which might be more suitable for ladies. This conversation was the starting point of the unforgettable afternoon spent with the nuns.
The nunnery houses 22 nuns, some novice others who have taken their vows, and their Rinpoche, an 85 yr old Lama. The Nunnery has a commanding view of the Gangtok hills and requires a short climb on foot. Built recently, the simple structure and basic interiors, although Tibetan in essence, do not have the charm of the older monasteries.
Losar decoration, kept at the entrance
But what the structure lacks in charm, the residents more than compensate for!
I was received by a group of nuns who sat in the sun warming themselves in the March chill, with their yellow and maroon robes. They wore their hair short – like a crew cut – and large abundant smiles that displayed their souls on their faces. A young 20-year-old, came up to greet me and led the way into the main prayer hall.
After a little chit-chat, she decided to invite me to her living quarters – the inner rooms…and offered me salted tea. Snacks that they had made themselves followed. These were no ordinary snacks – they were Losar offerings created with love and dedication. They were artistic forms of a popular Indian snack called Mathri – flowers, shells and other abstract shapes created out of spiced dough and then deep-fried. Art in food!
These privileges were unexpected and I was totally delighted to be invited into the intimate aspects of their lives.
One of the two sweet nuns who were attending to me,
then offered me Chaang – a rice wine drink and warned me that after that I could go a little crazy – that I would talk a lot or behave strangely 🙂 ! I tried it – it tasted very different from the rice-wine from Nagaland…this one tasted like rice in buttermilk…but unfortunately did not have the promised effect!
In the meanwhile, a group of other young nuns had gathered in the balcony and had put on some music. Bhutanese lyrics combined with rock compositions. Against the backdrop of the hills and the prayer flags fluttering loudly in the wind and the gorgeous oriental features of my young hostesses, this music seemed totally appropriate.
And more joined in one by one, shyly, awkwardly, but with happy smiling faces full of the joy of the moment.
I stood at a distance taking pictures trying to capture the moment. They were not dancing for a ‘performance’ to show others. They were dancing for themselves.
There was no emulation of pop stars or bollywood and they had no rules of dancing that needed to be followed. They made up their own steps and own hand movements and danced as their own souls commanded them to. Everyone participated on an equal footing – without anyone trying to outdo the other.
And they were happy! It reminded me of the joy I have seen at the birthday parties of my children when they were 7 and 8 years old!
Their innocent spontaneity and naive style was completely endearing and their heartfelt joy was infectious!
Soon I was invited in, and I had a wonderful time dancing with the nuns. What a fun way to celebrate Losar!
After a hour of merrymaking – I left, promising myself that I would come back someday and spend a week here, living the life they do. As I said my goodbyes and began to leave the other nun who had attended to me …
The gifts that I received from the nuns at Phendzong Nunnery, will remain with me forever!
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