7 Years at Nalanda: artist in residence Sonam Sherpa
For the past 7 years, Nepali artist, Sonam Sherpa has greatly served Nalanda in numerous art projects ranging from painting the magnificent large Buddha statue in the big gompa to painting finely detailed thangkas of the Protectors of the Lam Rim. Sonam tells about his life and his work for Nalanda.
“When I was young, I quite liked to draw, not only the normal things but also deities. My elder brother knew that recently the Tsering Art school in Boudhanath, Kathmandu, had started. The school had been opened to preserve the almost extinct Karma Gardi tradition of thangka painting. When I went there in 1998 the teacher was happy to accept me.
I came into contact with Nalanda through my colleague Shashi, with whom I ran a thangka workshop. He had acquainted himself with the former director of Nalanda, Ven.Tendar. When Tendar invited him we decided to go together. When we came at Nalanda there was a lot to do. The big Buddha had to be painted and then also the 1000 small buddhas which are now on the wall behind the large Buddha. It was like all these Buddhas were waiting for us.
We started with the big Buddha, but we since we stayed only for two months didn’t quite finish. The details were not yet done. After five months we came back. Shashi only for one month but I have been staying ever since. I started the 1000 buddhas. My work was to open the eyes of the Buddhas. I think I did 600 of these in about 8 months, up to 7 buddhas a day. Sometimes I got a headache and had to take a break, but I really liked it. By that time, the gompa of the new building was all white, so I started painting and decorating the altar area. I finished the large Buddha statue and I did other work outside the gompa like painting Buddhas and gilding stupas, both for Nalanda and other centers.
Living in the West was a little bit difficult in the beginning. I had to get used to the new environment and the different mentality. But I was very happy to benefit a monastery. This was my aim from the beginning and at Nalanda I saw it come true.
On top of that I met Lama Zopa Rinpoche here in Nalanda in 2009. Rinpoche told me he appreciated my work very much. That made me feel like a plant coming to new life. Over the last years, I have collaborated with Rinpoche in designing logos for several FPMT centres, including Nalanda and the IT Sangha at Pomaia. Recently I was requested to make a new logo for the Maitreya Project in Kushinagar. These logos are very dear to me because they connect me with Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Rinpoche’s appreciation is an important reason why I am still here. At some point, I thought my work was finished. But then Rinpoche asked me to do more thangkas for Nalanda.
The last few years I have been working on thangkas of the three protectors of the Lam Rim. Namtose, a wrathful deity sitting on a snow lion, is now on the left wall the Gompa. The White Mahakala I finished a couple of months ago and now I am looking forward to doing the last one, Kalarupa. I am also going to work on the 16 Arhats sculpted by Jonathan Partridge at Tushita, which have recently been restored at Nalanda. I will paint the original statues for Nalanda and I will also paint models of copies for other FPMT centers: one more simply and another more elaborated (and more expensive) ones, so that they can choose which they want.”
Nalanda Monastery welcomes sponsors who help to cover the costs related to Sonam’s work as artist in residence.