Craft & Spirituality: Tibet’s “Khyenle” Lama Bronze Statues

Craft & Spirituality
Tibet’s “Khyenle” Lama Bronze Statues

Filmmaker and author Dawa Drolma introduces us to the Khyenle Arts Center where her father and brother are the sixth and seventh generation master of “khyenle”, a method for making lama bronze statues. Based in Dzongsar, an artisan in Tibet’s cultural heartland, Dawa Drolma and her family are working alongside their artisan neighbors to fortify their community economically and spiritually.
opt divider small 02 - Khyenle

A filmmaker, Dawa Drolma’s story is nothing short of cinematic. She was herding yaks by the age of six. After a near fatal illness, she travelled to the United States to study business. She completed her studies, but coming from a creative family, she also managed to teach herself to shoot and edit documentaries which led to her working at the Smithsonian. But her heart belongs to Dzongsar, her birthplace, and she returned to help her father and brother run their family’s Khyenle Arts Center.

portrait dawa - Khyenle
Pictured here, Dawa Drolma and her father Shalil Nima, a sixth generation master. He believes artisan skills can lift a community out of poverty. At Khyenle Arts Center, Shalil Nima take on anyone as an apprentice. You have to be willing to learn & BE KIND

‘Khyenle’, a bronze casting method used to make Buddha and bodhisattva images is revered by Tibetans and monasteries in Tibet, China and around the world.  The technique was developed in the early nineteenth century by Khyentse Rinpoche of Dzongsar Monastery. Khyentse Rinpoche refined a technique that already existed by creating a more stable alloy, one that had wonderful sheen and could last an eternity. The technique was passed down to Dawa Drolma’s family, who have a long history as metalsmiths within the community.

Dawa’s father, Shalil Nima, is the sixth generation khyenle master and he is a dedicated teacher of the craft. He’s committed to teaching and he will accept any apprentice serious about learning, regardless of their gender or economic background. He feels strongly that craft – made and produced locally – can help a community thrive.

Dawa Drakpa, Dawa Drolma’s brother, is following his father’s footsteps. But, with a new generation comes innovation, and Dawa Drakpa is striking a balance between tradition and innovation by introducing new bronze crafts, such as jewelry.

But, where exactly is Dzongsar?  Technically, Dzongsar is located in China’s Sichuan Province, but historically it is part of the Dege Kingdom, which is Tibet’s cultural heartland. The Khyenle Art Center is situated in a picturesque village in a long, narrow valley flanked by steep Himalayan mountains, grasslands dotted with shaggy yaks and icy glacier streams. It is no wonder this region has inspired a spiritual and artistic tradition of Tibet.

Pilgrims have been coming here for  hundreds of years to pay respects at Dzongsar Monastery.  Built in the 8th century, Dzongsar Monastery is the seat of Khyentse Rinpoche, one of the most revered monks in Tibetan Buddhism. There is a Buddhist University here, with hundreds of monks studying Buddhist philosophy and scripture. There is a traditional Tibetan medicine apothecary The Dege Sutra-Printing House, where Buddhist texts are printed by hand using carved printing blocks, is just down the road. These sites plus uplifting mountain air, beautiful trekking routes and creative workshops are slowly attracting more travellers.

What does the influx of travellers mean for Dzongsar? How will they navitage and balance tradition and growth? Dawa tells us how the community is looking forward.

We also hear about Dawa’s film “White Lies”. Shot in situ and in real time, the film follows her relationship with her dzo, a mother yak, who’s baby dies. The film shows us that in Dzongsar, nature and humans are inextricably linked and dependent on each other. In Dzongsar, Dawa shows us, nature, community and spirituality are one.

Find out more about Khyenle Arts Center at www.khyenle.com

Follow Khyenle on Instagram @khyenle

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