A Portrait of Kalsang

Kalsang is one of the Aurovillians that inspired me the most during my stay in Tamil Nadu. Originally from Tibet, her family was targeted by the Chinese government because of their willingness to spread the Tibetan language and culture within Tibet. In order to save his children, Kalsang’s father brought four out of the eight brothers and sisters across to Dharamsala, India.

There, they would get a proper education and be able to learn all about the Tibetan culture. The Chinese government killed many Tibetans attempting to maintain a sense of national identity in their own country, including Kalsang’s mother… Living in Dharamsala, Kalsang attended the Tibetan Children’s Village School. At the age of 15, Kalsang went on an exchange program to Auroville. Like many others, she fell in love with the surroundings and started planning her return to the city of Dawn.

In 1994, Kalsang packed up her bags and settled in Auroville. Leaving Dharamsala was no easy task and her brothers and sister did not understand her decision. Although it created tensions with her siblings, Kalsang knew that she belonged in Auroville. At first, she thought she was attending an International Institute for the Environment and was surprised not to be taking courses when she moved to Auroville. She quickly discovered that she needed to learn how to ride a bicycle, a motorbike and then find a job. Kalsang has worked for many units in Auroville including the Matrimandir Nasri (rose garden) and has lived in 7 different communities. Over the years, she adapted and integrated the Aurovillian community, which was rather exclusive at the time.

From 1995 onwards, Kalsang worked closely with the Tibetan Association Group. She helped frenchman Claude, who is the first contact with Tibetans in Auroville due to his affinity with Tibet and the Tibetan culture, lead workshops and spread Tibetan culture within the Aurovillian community. In 1997, construction for the Tibetan Pavilion started and Kalsang and her partner Namgyal moved into the Pavilion in 2000. The Tibetan Pavilion is build following the Kala Chakra Mandala and embodies Tibetan culture in Auroville. Before construction even started, plans of the building were sent to his Holiness, the Dalai Lama, for approval. Initially, Kalsang planned to place a large statue of Buddha in the atrium, but the Dalai Lama being aware of Auroville’s stance on religion, advised to place a calm and soothing fountain instead.

Kalsang has struggled to get to where she is today. By running the Tibetan Pavilion, first pavilion of the International Zone of Auroville, Kalsang vows to modernize and spread the Tibetan culture throughout India and the rest of the world. She says the concept of welcoming anyone who wants to learn about it will never change. Due to her hard work, the Tibetan community has gained a lot of respect in Auroville. In 2003, her daughter Jang Chup was born in Auroville. The more time I spent with the Tibetan family, the more I realized how special this child is. Jang Chup grounds the family and represents the future of Tibetan culture in Auroville. Born in India, she is conscious about being Tibetan. At the age of 6, she talks about freedom, the Chinese violence in her motherland and already speaks english, tibetan, tamoul, hindi, some sanskrit and is learning french. Jang Chup represents the future of the modern tibetan culture. She lives in India, is very aware of the significance of being Tibetan and through her schooling will be able to modernize the Tibetan culture with the new generation of Tibetans living in exile in India. As she says, “Happy to be born in India but proud to be Tibetan”.

Kalsang with her daughter Jang Chup.

The Dalai Lama has played a huge role in Kalsang’s life. In 2009, his Holiness inaugurated the Tibetan Pavilion in Auroville and met Kalsang for the third time. Kalsang believed that this would be the day she could rest, move on. She had created the pavilion and was now ready to work elsewhere in Auroville. However, the Dalai Lama told her “it is only the beginning of your mission”.

Initially surprised, Kalsang now admits she agrees with his Holiness. “I feel it’s true”, says Kalsang.

Kalsang is dedicated to spread and participate in the modernization of Tibetan culture. Everyday, she strives towards raising the awareness of the difficulties Tibetans face. One of her current projects is to bring children from the Tibetan Children’s Village School to Auroville every year, entirely funded by the Tibetan Pavilion and alumni. In hopes that Kalsang will inspire the new Tibetan generation as much as she did Jang Chup, I urge anyone who visits Auroville to stop by the Tibetan Pavilion for a chat and and a cup of chai with Kalsang, her partner Namgyal and little daughter Jan Chup. Anyone who does so will be sincerely inspired and moved by Kalsang’s ongoing efforts.

Collective Meditation around Atrium Fountain, Tibetan Pavilion.

by Pushan Chawla Bhowmick

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