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- Post 01 December 2011
Many revolutionaries have cherished their dreams in remote mountain hideaways - but few with such peaceful intent as the nuns of Naro Photang nunnery in Shey. 50 nuns of the Buddhist Drukpa lineage are learning ancient skills forbidden to women for centuries. They've been allowed to do Kung Fu for two years now. But what's making these otherwise serene young women slightly nervous is the fact they're also now being allowed to perform the sect's sacred dances.At the Annual Drukpa Council this summer they'll be responsible for the venerable Dragon Dance itself. Bearing aloft and bringing life to five unwieldy golden beasts - aided by sticks, synchronized steps and an intricate drum pattern - is much tougher than it looks.
Available with French and Chinese subtitles
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Total running time of DVD: 26 minutes
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Under the tutelage of the nuns' Vietnamese Kung Fu master, Dang Dinh Hai, the nuns are already skilled at Kung Fu, a martial art previously reserved for monks.
"Kung Fu helps us concentrate when we meditate," says 26 year old Kunzang, who left home to study here. "Secondly it helps keep us healthy and strong."
"This is the kind of culture that the women come second," he says of Ladakh generally. "From a point of view of Buddhist teaching, it is perfectly okay to put them together - the men and women, on the same level."
His Holiness has another revolutionary way of emboldening the nuns, which is to teach them in groups personally. That means that monks have to turn to the nuns, "to learn something that they have learnt from me".
"So, if I may say, it's kind of a trick that I am playing," he says with a smile, "so that the nuns automatically will have a little bit of better status." As for the Dragon Dance itself, the 10 nuns who form each of the serpent-like beasts don't need extra strength - just the confidence that's sometimes elusive after centuries of exclusion.
"Girls often come to me to be accepted as nuns, actually with a great deal of sufferings. They have sufferings within their own family... especially in our culture or in the Himalayan region." He pauses for the merest instant of reflection, "or maybe not only in the Himalaya region. I think everywhere in the world, women are a little bit looked down on, you know."
After listening to His Holiness a while, you do begin to wonder what your own karma is.
Kunzang and the Drukpa nuns themselves have now performed the Dragon Dance at the Annual Drukpa Council in Ladakh. We can report Dang Dinh Hai was proud of his pupils' performance - that the dragon never touched the ground, and that next year the nuns plan to perform other activities - for centuries reserved exclusively for the monks.
Source: BBC News - Life on the Edge, Kung Fu Nuns (www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-radio-and-tv-14364090)