This is Werner Herzog’s record of the 2002 Kalacakra event in Bodhgaya, which was never completed owing to the Dalai Lama’s failing health situation; followed by a successful Kalacakra later in the year held in Graz, Austria.
The Kalacakra Mandala
The documentary also features the Dalai Lama commenting on some of the more esoteric points in connection with the ritual, and explaining the deeper meanings behind it, though not very much about its significance is ever revealed.
Herzog concentrates on filming the preperations for the Kalacakra mandala, and some of the estimated 200,000 people who gathered at the event in Bodhgaya, often just watching them at the event, or documenting the daily activities.
The director also includes a diversion to the Mt. Kailash pilgrimage season in Western Tibet, where pilgrims who have come from all over the country and abroad gather to make the circumambulation around what is considered by them as the center of the universe.
In Graz he documents one of the few times that the ritual has been held in the West, in a packed 8,000-person auditorium, and watches at the end of the ceremony as the sand from the mandala is washed away in the river.
As always in Herzogs’s films he manages to make nearly everything and everybody look alien, perhaps only emphasising how foreign Tibetan culture is to the Westerner, but this also serves to highlight a very different perspective on religious practice.
The film features an interview with Takna Jigme Zangpo, who had been recently released after serving 37 years in a Chinese prison for supporting the Tibetan Independence Movement.
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The Dalai Lama
Making the Mandala
Unveiling the Mandala
Emptying the Sand into the River