H I S T O R Y
In the early 1980's, Kelsang Yeshi, Minister of the Department of Religion and Culture, and his wife Kim Yeshi began to imagine an institute in India which could act as a cradle for the revival of Tibetan art, and provide a haven for artists to practice their crafts. The goal was to return Tibetan art to its former glory, following the strictest standards in terms of the selection of materials, quality of craftsmanship, and adherence to traditional methods. With the growing interest in Tibetan culture in India and abroad, Norbulingka could also serve as a emissary of Tibetan culture, a place where people could come and witness artists at work and immerse themselves in a Tibetan community for an afternoon or a few days. The increasing fascination with Tibetan Buddhism internationally created a demand for exceptionally crafted art objects, which would make the project sustainable.
With generous donations from many patrons who believed in the vision of Norbulingka, the land was purchased in 1984 and construction began in 1988. The ground plan was designed to follow the proportions of Avalokitesvara, the deity of compassion. The workshops and offices were to be constructed in the shape of his thousand arms. The temple would be his head, while in the middle would be a water spring, representing his heart, emanating kindness to all living beings. In the beginning, most of the artists were employed for the actual construction of the institute, which was designed in traditional Tibetan architectural style.
Woodcarvers and carpenters helped to erect the buildings, while thangka painters worked tirelessly to complete the frescoes on the walls of the temple. Meanwhile, our team of statue-makers were absorbed in the construction of a 14ft gilded Buddha to grace our temple, crafted from hand-hammered sheets of copper.
In 1995, Norbulingka Institute was officially inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Gradually, Norbulingka came to include nine workshops including thangka painting, statue making, thangka applique, woodcarving, applique, wood painting, tailoring, weaving, and screen printing. Product lines were created for each section which incorporated modern tastes with Tibetan design. An administrative team was formed to help run the institute and maintain standards, and a research section and college was added to promote Tibetan scholastics. While there have been many challenges along the way, we have remained dedicated to our vision, and our commitment to provide employment and training to Tibetan refugees. Whatever resources and people we have available, we incorporate into our evolving Institute, always with an eye to the future of how we can better adapt to changing needs. And where the area around Norbulingka was once only fields, a thriving Tibetan community has sprung up filled with cafes, restaurants, shops, and homes.
Now more than twenty years later, all of our original masters have passed away and it is now their students who carry the legacy forward. The quality of our craftsmanship remains at the highest standard today, a testament to the dedication of our masters, and their faultless transmission of their craft.