Lucye Rafferty/The Hoya Buddhist monks will bring Tibetan culture to ICC this week for Free Tibet Week. The colorful sand mandala will be on display in ICC until Wednesday.

Georgetown’s first annual Free Tibet Week, which began onday and lasts through Thursday, includes cultural and educational events and lectures to raise awareness about the plight of Tibetans and supporting the freedom cause.

“Our goal this year is threefold,” Hamsa Rajan (SFS ’05), who helped organize the event, said. “[First], to raise awareness about and interest in Tibetan culture and religion. [Second], to raise awareness concerning the political situation in Tibet and the ongoing human rights violations and destruction of culture imposed upon the Tibetan people. Third, to raise money for the Tashi Lhunpo monastery.”

GU Students for a Free Tibet and the Student Activities Commission are sponsoring this week’s events, with support from the School of Foreign Service, the Asian Studies Program, the History Department and the East Asian Languages and Cultures Department.

Rajan explained the motives behind the Free Tibet movement and its mission at Georgetown. “In 1949, Chinese Communist troops invaded and ultimately occupied Tibet. Since then, Tibetans have suffered immense human rights violations, destruction of culture, religious persecution and economic and cultural marginalization,” he said.

“Our purpose as GU Students for a Free Tibet is to educate the Georgetown community on the situation in Tibet and to work on economic and political actions to help Tibetans – for example, to free political prisoners or to end Western investment in harmful economic projects in Tibet,” he added. “Also, as we are doing this week, we try when possible to raise money for the Tibetan refugee community.”

The construction of a sand mandala in the ICC Galleria began onday at 9 a.m. with a ceremony of chants, music and mantra meditation for the blessing of the site to make it conducive for crafting the mandala. After the ceremony, monks from the Tashi Lhunpo monastery began constructing a geometric pattern for the mandala, which they will construct with millions of grains of colored sand that are delicately laid on a flat platform using traditional metal funnels called chakpur.

Wednesday at 3 p.m. the monks will deconstruct the elaborate mandala during a closing ceremony. The monks will sweep up the colored sands, symbolizing the impermanence of life – how all things come from nothingness and return to it, Rajan said. The mandala will take three days to construct.

Rajan also described the history of the Tashi Lhunpo monastery. “The Tashi Lhunpo monastery is the seat of the Panchen Lama, the second-highest ranking religious leader in Tibet. In 1995, two months after Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was recognized as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, he was kidnapped by Chinese authorities, and his whereabouts remain unknown. Many refugees flee Tibet for reasons of religious persecution. Thus, in refugee settlements in India, many Tibetan monasteries have been rebuilt in exile. The Tashi Lhunpo monastery is one of these,” he said.

Rajan also highlighted some of the difficulties that the Tashi Lhunpo monastery faces as a result of its exile status. “Several of the monks studying at the monastery are newly arrived refugees from Tibet. Few monks are able to cover the cost of food, housing and education, so the administration attempts to make ends meet as best as possible, since no student is denied entrance,” he said.

The week’s events came together partly by coincidence, Rajan explained. “The Tashi Lhunpo monks, on their North American tour, were set to be in D.C. this week. In addition, the Taiwanese representative of the Dalai Lama was also going to be in town, so we decided to combine the two events into a Free Tibet Week.”

Events planned for the week include a traditional Tibetan monastic dance tonight at 8:30 p.m. in Gaston Hall and a lecture Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in McGhee Library by Ngawa Tsegyam, assistant to the Dalai Lama’s Representative in Taiwan, about the imminent change of power in China and its implications for Tibet.

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