Renewing a legend

In my last post, I described the giant rope, or snake, that appeared unexpectedly at Boudhanath. Hundreds of people carried a 1336 meter long knitted community construction. If you’re not used to thinking in meters, just imagine a tube sock that when stretched gently is a mile long.

A good friend, Rachel, says, “It’s nice the way the participants are all actually bound together by it, a great village umbilicus.”

A Tibetan Buddhist legend about the building of Boudhanath fits with the idea of this knitted rope:

After the death of an ancient Buddha, an old woman wanted to inter his remains. Before starting, she petitioned the King for land the size of a buffalo skin. He granted permission for her to bury the body and build a tower, wondering how she could do so in such a small area.

She cut the skin in small strips and made a long, leather string to encircle the area, which become the present Boudhanath. There is now not only the huge stupa, but a thriving small town around it.

Project 1336 at Boudhanath Stupa

Boudhanath Stupa

Boudhanath Stupa

Project 1336 is a community-based art project, designed by Manish Lal Shrestha, and named after the altitude of Kathmandu in meters. It works with the diverse community of Kathmandu, especially women and youth.

Carrying the 1336 meter knitted wool snake

Carrying the 1336 meter knitted wool snake

The project involves knitting a huge wool rope or snake. The knitting signifies warmth, inclusiveness, and nostalgia about motherhood. The process of the installation is itself a work of art which links creators and viewers in a community activity. The work is “spontaneous, performative, interactive and playful.” Manish writes:

Life is never straight; it is like the lane of the Kathmandu Valley. I see women gathering in small courtyard knitting along with their neighbors’ interaction with joy about life and values. They knit with the stories, and knitting becomes the story of seconds. Knitting is like making things happen, intricate connection between threads and journey of life, which is yet full of struggle, hope, and chaos like the lanes in the city.

Today happened to be a beautiful, sunny day at Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu. This stupa is located on an ancient trade route from Tibet to Lalitpur. At 118 feet tall, it is one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world.

We had a lovely lunch at Flavours restaurant across from the stupa. Then, while strolling around the stupa we happened upon an amazing sight.

A public procession of a 1336 meter long, knitted snake was being enacted. It appeared to require 1336 people to carry it along with their big smiles.

We were fortunate to be standing next to a friend of Manish, the designer. She provided an explanation of what we were experiencing, but we still couldn’t quite believe it.