Tracing Tibet

Above: The ruins of Shide Samtenling Monastery

The Indian Express, 30th July, 2013

Kelsang Dolma stands in a white canopied pavilion and looks up at the bright coloured Tibetan prayer flags. Her gaze moves downwards, towards the posters lining the pavilion's walls. These are posters with pictures of people fleeing and of monasteries in ruins. To her, the posters are a reminder of the ordeal her own family had to endure. "I was just one-and-a-half years old when we came to India. Tibetan children like me were not allowed to learn our indigenous language or about our culture. My father, a Tibetan language teacher, was not allowed to teach. When he saw that he couldn't even teach his own children their history and language, he arranged for us to leave Tibet," she says.

Dolma is at an exhibition about Tibetan history and culture and Buddhism at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum of Indian History, Lohegaon. And though she is reminded of all that her family left behind — both the roots and the ruins of their culture — she is happy that Tibet's story is reaching out to more people.

The exhibition was inaugurated on Sunday by the Dalai Lama during his visit to the city. The exhibition covers the origin of Buddhism in India and its spread in Tibet along with the rest of the country. There is a twin exhibition that features photographs of Tibet, the exodus of Tibetans across the border and the destruction of monasteries. There are pictures of refugees escaping from Tibet and making their way towards the border, passing through some of the world's highest mountain passes.

The material and the information in the exhibition was curated and displayed by The Tibet Museum of Dharamshala, where it is a part of their permanent collection and display. The curators sent over the information to Francois Gautier and his wife, Namrata, the organisers of the exhibition and founders of the museum. "India has given refuge to many Tibetans, but many Indians don't know about Tibet itself or about what happened there," says Gautier. Namrata shares how they encountered ignorance even among the authorities. "When we visited the local police officers to tell them about the exhibition, the SP thought Tibet was an Indian state in the Northeast."

To ensure that locals understood the story of Tibet well, the couple made it an English-Marathi exhibition. "Most of the locals around the campus here speak only Marathi. That's why we've arranged to have the information displayed in Marathi as well. This is the first Marathi exhibition about Tibetan Buddhism," says Gautier.

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