Where ancient cultures converge
The Indian subcontinent was, until about 150 million years ago, attached to what now is East Africa. It separated and drifted across the oceans until, about 50 million years ago, it collided with Asia, where it continues to move northward about four or five centimeters each year. Something had to give: the Indian tectonic plate slid under the part of Asia it had struck and caused it to lift up thousands of feet. The Indian plain south of the Himalayas is only a few hundred feet above sea level; Tibet, to the north, is about thirteen thousand feet higher. The friction created a mountain range all the way from Afghanistan to Myanmar (Burma) which continues to grow upward by about two centimeters each year, making it a region of frequent earthquakes and tremors. In the many valleys of the Himalaya, hundreds of human cultures developed, each able to make a living in widely different environments, wet to dry, temperate to very cold. These valleys are separated by lofty mountain ridges that have kept the cultures partly separate with great varieties of practices, religious beliefs, languages, and arts.
India on the south side of the Himalayan mountains has a Hindu majority, while Tibet to the north has been primarily Buddhist. In between, in the high mountain valleys, the two cultures and others often meld together.
Hinduism developed in South Asia from the Vedas, a large body of religious texts that originated in ancient India and the Indus River civilization – most of which was in present-day Pakistan – more than 3,000 years ago. Later, Buddhism developed from the thinking of one man, Siddhartha Gautama, born near what is now the India Nepal border, around 567 BCE. Both religions believe in rebirth or reincarnation. Hindus seek a better rebirth through adherence to ritual; Buddhists seek rebirth in a better life through good behavior, especially compassion.
Buddhism took hold in India in the century or two after the death of Siddhartha, the Buddha, and soon became the dominant religion there, then declined and was replaced by resurgent Hinduism. For over a thousand years Buddhism has mostly disappeared in India but already had taken hold in East Asia and much of China and Tibet. It came to Tibet from south of the Himalayas and from China first in the 8th century and a second wave also from India and China reinforced its influence about two hundred years later.
The deities of the Vedic religions like Hinduism were largely adopted by Buddhists, often with different names, and often with a major difference: to most Hindus and to lay commoners among Buddhists, those deities are distinct gods and other-worldly beings who require frequent and devout worship, but Buddhist monks and philosophers might regard them as not distinct beings but as representations of desirable personal characteristics. If you want to become more compassionate, for example, meditate on the virtues of deity figures known as masters of compassion.
Buddhists and Hindus alike believe that intelligent beings have existed for countless millennia, since long before any record of our life now on earth. For Hindus, we are in the fourth and last major period of the universe’s existence. Siddhartha, the man we call the Buddha, is only the latest in a countless chain of Buddhas. The next Buddha, Maitreya, already is known to us and is waiting to emerge when he thinks the time is right. Hindus see their main gods, Indra and Brahma, as eternal and unchanging.
” Over the course of seventeen years, beginning in 2000, I made seven treks in the Nepal Himalaya. They were magical, enlightening journeys consisting of exquisite mountain scenery, unique flora and fauna and captivating cultural interactions, all attained with much sweat and sometimes pain. Nepal is an amazing country where you can walk from bananas to glaciers in a matter of days.
For me, as an artist, it was an intense visual experience. I had dreamed of seeing the Himalayas since my teens, and many years later, when I had my first view of the panorama of icy peaks from 30,000 feet in a jet, it was akin to a religious experience.
On trek, it was wonderful to be in the river gorges, foothills and high valleys where everyone traveled by foot or horseback, a blessed relief from the noise and fumes of motorized vehicles. Each day on trek revealed numerous scenes for me to record in ink and watercolor in my various sketchbooks.
It was refreshing to walk through villages and terraced farmland where most everything was done at a slower pace by hand without the aid of complex machinery. Self-sufficiency was the norm and the local people seemed content and satisfied with their lives.
During those seventeen years I saw many social, political and environmental changes unfold in Nepal, but the high peaks will always tower above and aloof from the transient concerns of men, secure in their permanency.”
– Lee Stroncek
The Himalaya Exhibit
The current exhibit was curated by Ross Rodgers who retired from the Foreign Service to live near the Montana mountains where he has been a Bozeman resident for 27 years with his wife, Ellen, both avid art collectors. Ross spent many years living outside the U.S., including 12 years in Asia. His love of art started with an interest in Asian ceramics, then Japanese woodblock prints, then everything else!
His first visit to Nepal was in November 1970 when he was an Army Captain in Vietnam. He has made about 20 visits to the Himalayan region and developed a growing interest in the cultures and art forms there.
In this exhibition his focus is on the diversity of cultures mixing and blending for centuries and, like the beginning and developing art forms in any culture, the focus on religion and myths in the making of artistic statements.
We are thrilled to have Ross organize and present this excellent exhibition for the community and grateful for all the effort it took to create.
The exhibit will be open from September 8th through December 15th.