Thirty years ago, Norbulingka marked its beginnings, with our first trainees decorating the newly erected buildings under Master Thangka painter Temba Chophel. There was an atmosphere of electric enthusiasm, as they climbed up bamboo scaffolds to paint friezes, everyone doing their best with what they had, despite a heavy monsoon and poor living conditions. Buildings were completed and the community grew, adding families and their children. The first Norbulingka child, Noryang, was born in the new housing block near the pond in 1991. Many followed and soon we had a whole group of babies and toddlers that formed the core of our new crèche.
In May 1991, we presented the first phase of our work to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who inaugurated the new buildings and four years later, in 1995, the complete, functioning Institute. It had been a joint effort of staff and artisans and we all felt tremendous pride in our achievements.
Most of our artisans were new arrivals, some skilled but most not. They needed a livelihood and we needed to build up Norbulingka into a self-reliant community that would prove to the world that Tibetan art was alive and well. Our masters teamed with ideas and their apprentices were eager to learn and prove themselves. Patrons appeared from the local community and beyond, and together, we created exceptional pieces of religious art that now grace various monasteries in India and abroad. Gradually, we built up our management team, mostly from young India-born University graduates who had grown up in the Tibetan settlements, and Norbulingka became a well-managed place of peace and beauty where people from all over India and the world could witness Tibetan culture as vibrant and alive.
We continued to grow, and with over four hundred employees and their families, became a village. We had a yearly picnic, a two-day celebration with food and games for all, and gatherings, incense offerings and common prayers in the temple when someone passed away. Many unions were made at Norbulingka, weddings celebrated and children born. They grew up with the community as their home, and some even worked here when they completed their schooling.