Noedup Rongae and the Shambhala Lineage Tree Thangka

By morning our group bound for Orissa had grown to four with the overnight arrival of Anky Aarts and Kristine McKutcheon. We took our breakfast with Noedup Rongae, his nephew and a monk who’d driven down with them from the mountains. Noedup is in my view one of the great treasures in our community. His thanka paintings are among the finest I have ever seen. There is a life, richness and detail to everything he paints. His understanding of dharma and his seamless devotion to the Vidyadhara and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is humbling and inspiring.

The reason Noedup made the long journey to Delhi was to show the Sakyong the progress on the Shambhala lineage tree thangka. After coffee, omelets, and toast we went to Noedup’s room near the roof where he unfurled the six or seven foot wide sketch of the image. Actually, it was only the top half of the sketching because the lower half was on an equally wide piece of plywood too large to travel with. The finished painting will be six feet across and nine feet tall.

A lineage tree shows all the figures of a tradition in a tree or in the sky surrounding the central figure, the embodiment of all of them, the manifestation of the teacher. In the middle of the Shambhala lineage tree sits the Primordial Rigden who is the embodiment of basic goodness or our inherent wisdom. In the massive sketch the image of the central Rigden figure is regal, dignified and gentle in a gesture of teaching. Surrounding him are many, many deities notably all the kings and queens of Shambhala seated in pairs. Below, in the section that remained in Menali, are the meditation deities and protectors. In the sky above are the great teachers like Padmasambhava, Marpa, and Machig Labdron, and great ancestral rulers of this world like Ashoka and Trisong Detsen. One thing that struck me was the balance of masculine and feminine figures in the assembly, far greater than I’ve ever seen in thankas of this sort.

Noedup told us about many coincidences that were pushing the thanka to move along and given him the feeling that no matter what this thanka must be finished. One was the fact that he was able to get three well-known painters from Tibet to work on the preliminary sketches with him. He explained that they were in such demand in Asia that it was very hard to get their help on a project. However, although they’d planned to stay only a week they were inspired to extend their visit three months in order to sketch the full image with Noedup.

Another major coincidence was His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa supplying Noedup with professional photos of a complete set of all the Rigden kings painted by one of the previous Tai Situ Rinpoches, a great teacher and painter. Noedup in turn was able to share with the Karmapa the text description he’d used to make his own original series of Rigden king paintings, a text Karmapa had not previously encountered. It turned out the Noedup’s text had been written by the guru of the previous Tai Situpa who’d made those paintings at his teacher’s instruction.

The Shambhala lineage thanka will require a great deal of effort to complete. Noedup described an invention of his, a barrel shaped canvas stretcher that enables six people to work on the thanka at the same time without the movement of brush-strokes affecting one another’s section of the painting. He says nothing like this has been used before and it will enable the thanka to move along much more quickly. Because of his inspiration—Noedup was sparking humour and delight every single time he spoke about the thanka—and the many coincidences Noedup said he feels he has no choice but to bring this project to completion.

If you wish to contribute towards this project which will bring to life something that will be seen and used by generations of dharma practitioners and continue Noedup’s lineage of thanka painting through supporting the Shambhala School of Thanka Painting in Northern India please email Lodro Rinzler



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