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American's gift of love revives memory of ancient Tibet kingdom

July 1, 2010

Sudeshna Sarkar
Sify (India)
June 29, 2010

An amazing gift of love by an American artist
will revive the memory of an ancient Tibetan
kingdom more than 50 years after the annexation
of Tibet by China and a drive by Beijing to clamp
down on Tibet's unique Buddhist art, culture and tradition.

A nearly five-year labour of love by Jane Lillian
Vance, who teaches 'the creative process' at the
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State
University in Virginia, climaxes in Nepal with a
documentary recording the culture of Mustang,
which was once part of an ancient and culturally rich Tibetan kingdom.

Now the northernmost district in Nepal, Mustang
still retains its uniqueness due to geo-political
changes that saw it become part of Nepal and escape Chinese onslaughts.

The documentary, 'A gift for the village', tells
of the unusual and moving association between
Vance and Tsampa Ngawang, a Tibetan lama as well
as an amchi, a practitioner of the
now-disappearing science of Tibetan medicine based on Himalayan herbs.

Vance, who met Ngawang during her visit to Nepal
in 2001, was asked by him to do his portrait.

It was no ordinary portrait but a traditional
painting that would become part of Mustang's cultural history.

It was done in the thangka style, the highly
stylised Tibetan spiritual painting that mostly
depicts gods and goddesses, the Buddha and religious leaders.

Vance says she became the first western painter -
and a woman - to be allowed the privilege of
painting a traditional portrait of a Tibetan amchi.

In 2007, three years after she finished the
intricate, seven-foot portrait done on special
cloth, she travelled to Mustang to deliver her
gift, which, according to Tibetan traditions,
became a gift for the entire village as well.

The journey was captured on camera and became the
foundation of the documentary, which premiered in Kathmandu Monday.

It will be followed by two more screenings in the
capital after which Vance plans to show it in
different cities in Nepal and the US.

She will then set out on a 155-mile trek over
16,000 feet mountains to reach the village in
Upper Mustang where the documentary will be
screened in monasteries. The journey alone will take 12 days.

'A gift for the village' will have a special
place in the heart of the Tibetan community as it
has been blessed by the Dalai Lama.

Vance hopes it will be also viewed by the king of Mustang, Jigme Parwar Bista.

Though Nepal abolished monarchy in 2008 and
subsequently withdrew the royal titles given to
the former rulers of principalities, the former
Mustang king is still revered by his people as their ruler.

Tom Landon, who co-produced the documentary with
Vance's friend Jenna Swann, told the Buddhist
Channel why they chose to make it: 'To tell the
story of the connection between the Blue Ridge
(in the US) and the Himalayas and, really, just
to tell a good story that will make people
curious about these wonderful people and the lives they lead.'

The documentary, which the makers hope will act
as a bridge between the west and the east, is
also associated with the exorcising of two tragedies.

The team is carrying to Jomsom a load of precious
supplies: reading glasses, collapsible water
carriers, solar and crank flashlights,
retractable kitchen knives, sewing kits, birthing kits, and more.

These have been gifted by a Virginia family whose
daughter Morgan Harrington, a student of Vance at
the university, went missing in October 2009 while attending a concert.

The documentary also remembers the 33 people who
were killed in the worst-ever school shooting incident in the US.

On April 16, 2007, a Virginia Tech student killed
32 people and then shot himself.

A sequence from 'A gift for the village' shows a
moving memorial held in Jomsom to commemorate the
dead and wounded from that tragic day.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)
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