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Tibetan Culture and Religion

Kangtsa Medical College

Kangtsa is a small Monastery situated on the border between Zorge and Karkya. Along with Shakyong and Takster, it is among the oldest Gelukpa monasteries in Amdo. Founded by the 4th Panchen Lama’s disciple Ngomar Ritropa, it remained an independent institution for some time, then went under Labrang in the late 18th Century and remains connected to its Medical College to this time. Kangsta was built flanking a hill looking over a beautiful valley full of Juniper trees. Its Medical College is an active part of the monastery. Tibetan monk doctors, trained in Labrang, maintain a practice and a pharmacy made from medicinal plants collected every summer on the pasture. Five years ago, a separate dispensary was built below the monastery to increase its access for the local population.
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Thousands of white papers flutter in the air and land like snowfall on the celebrated hill, one of Ritoma’s four sacred peaks. They are printed with the Wind Horse, a galloping jewel-bearing horse, a symbol of good luck for the wind to carry far across the plateau. On the designated spot, fresh prayer flags are strung up, family staffs are added, and prayers are recited while making offerings of barley, grains and milk. The locals circle the tops of the sacred area, dressed in their best, accompanied by prized horses. They shout for the victory of the gods – Lha Gya Lo! It is the season of “lhatses.”

In Tibetan areas, each clan, village and area has its own celebrated lhatse, a mountain top that is the abode of a particular local deity. Once a year, the members of the clan or village assemble to pay tribute to this deity. This usually takes place during the summer months and it is an opportunity for nomads to dress in their finest and gather from near and far. Horse races and various local games follow the morning prayers and can continue for as long as three days with the men spending the nights in tents, talking and laughing long into the early hours of dawn. Feasts of momos and boiled meat are prepared and for many this is seen as a celebration of summer – a short and much prized period on the plateau where the weather is mild, the days long and the pasture is a green expanse speckled in wild flowers. Some lhatse celebrations are drenched by summer downpours, though this doesn’t dampen the celebrations. Rain is a part of the life-giving nature of the plateau.
Norlha observes holidays during the main lhatses in the area, a total of six days annually. The grandest and largest local lhatse brings together in celebration a thousand horses and their owners, and nomads from over a thousand families.

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Sagadawa is the full moon of the 4th month of the lunar calendar. This is the day that the Buddha was born, gained enlightenment and passed away. In a culture where the next life is considered as important as the present one, people give close attention to investing in their future, that is their future life. Sagadawa is that special month that is believed to bring even more merit than usual, an opportunity for religious minded Buddhists to acquire a good stock of positive acts for their karma account. A large number of Norlha employees devote the entire 4th month to performing various acts of merit.

Some become vegetarians for the month, others give alms to the poor and still others circumambulate or prostrate around the local monasteries. The 15th of the lunar calendar, the full moon, is a holiday for the Norlha employees. All the villagers assemble at the monastery for the unfurling of the large thangka (kyigu) on the hill across from the monastery and line up to receive blessings from a visiting Geshe (a degree awarded to monks on the completion of their dialectical studies) from nearby Labrang Monastery. Sagadawa is also a day where beggars from near and far flock around the larger monasteries to collect alms. Norlha wishes everyone a happy Sagadawa and good wishes for this life and the next.

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Giving and Yaks

Giving is a core value in Tibetan Buddhism. One can give material gifts, but also less tangible, more powerful offerings like love, time, or dedication. Even in the case of material gifts, the motivation behind the offering is crucial towards acquiring positive karma. Though the complexities in the philosophy of give and take, or cause and effect, are best understood by scholars and philosophers, lay people live or aspire to live according to its tenets. For centuries the life of nomads revolved around their yaks, which are central to their identity. Nomads never forget that yaks are the basis for their survival, the providers of all their needs; milk, meat, hair and khullu. Because of this they are referred to as ‘nor’ or wealth. Though humans take from the yaks, they treat them with respect and protect them, care for them when they are sick or hurt, and always keep a few to live out their lives, the ‘tsethars,’ labelled as such with a colorful collar. Norlha’s products are all made from yak khullu, making the yak central to Norlha. Our employees are ex-nomads who still cherish the yak for all that it continues to bring them through their work at the atelier. At Norlha, we take khullu from the yak to give back to the nomads and beyond. Our products offer the perfect opportunity to give to loved ones; timeless, lusciously soft and made to last a lifetime, they are a treasure that can be cherished and shared.

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Tsa-tsas are a form of Buddhist art that has flourished for centuries across the Tibetan plateau, throughout the Himalayas, and beyond, as far as Mongolia. Tsa-tsas are made of stamped clay and are iconographic forms of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as well as inscribed mantras. Tsa-tsas come in different sizes; small enough to fit into a gao, or charm box, to be worn for protection, or larger, to be left in a sacred area in the memory of a loved one. Stamping tsa-tsas from clay is considered a meritorious act. Conical shaped tsa-tsas often contain human remains, collected after a funeral, and are also left in holy spots.

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