SUNDAY MAGAZINE

Living a full life

Ellis Mensinghe with her prayer flags in the background.

Ellis Mensinghe with her prayer flags in the background.  

"Yesterday I married a Turkish couple, two men, and a Moroccan couple, and on Saturday a Dutch couple in a famous castle in a town nearby. For this `event' the Mayor and the Wise men had to give their special permission in a council meeting."

E-MAILS from Ellis Mensighe are fascinating ... as much as her own life. I met Ellis many years ago in The Netherlands. She has an interesting job in The Hague. She tries to make civil marriages a memorable event for the couple and the guests.

The city hall contacts her when a couple make a booking for a civil marriage. She first interviews the couple at length. Then thinks up an idea for the wedding — music, a poem or something else to make it very special.

Ellis had been recuperating from a serious illness when the wedding assignment happened. An active person and an education officer at the Children's Museum in The Hague, she has had a long association with India.

She had spent a year in 1979 trekking in Nepal and travelling in Asia. India fascinated her. She made a film on Pinky and Ghanshyam 11-year-old twins from a little Rajasthani village for Dutch children. This film was shown in the museum along with an exhibition on India.

Ellis and her husband, Alexander, also adopted an Indian child Meena, who is now a teenager.

Medical problems led her to give up her job. But she did not sit idle at home. In 1999, Ellis curated an exhibition for the weavers' association museum in Schevengingen, on the theme "Sun, Sand and Sea". She took a loom frame with only the warp and placed in different points on the beach with water, sun and sand weaving in at different times and took pictures. This proved very popular.

"Monday I had two wedding-ceremonies," continues Ellis in her e-mail, "a couple from Cape Verde (Africa) and one mix Chile-Holland. With the last one I used the Tibetan singing bowl. They were amazed and deeply moved."

While travelling in India and Nepal, Ellis became interested in the Buddhist mandalas and prayer flags. She decided to decorate the old lighthouse of Scheveninger with rows of Tibetan prayer flags, which are inscribed with auspicious symbols, invocations, prayers, and mantras.

Tibetan Buddhists have planted these flags outside their homes and places of spiritual practice so that the wind could carry the beneficent vibrations.

Prayer flags are said to bring happiness, long life and prosperity to the flag planter and those in the vicinity. Sets of five colour flags are put in the order: yellow, green, red, white and blue (from left to right or from bottom to top.) The colours represent the elements: Blue for space, White for water, Red for fire, Green for air or wind and Yellow for earth.

Ellis began to ask her friends to leave a prayer flag in different places. One friend took a prayer flag on her trip to the mountains and left it somewhere there. She brought Ellis a stone from that spot. Alexander went to New York and put a prayer flag on the Empire State Building and brought back pictures. Other friends went on a trip around the world and put flags on special spots in different countries.

At the International Oral Theatre festival in an island north of Holland in the Wadden Sea, everyone had to leave something special as a gift to the land. Ellis left a prayer flag.

"I feel the prayer flags are a nice, clear symbol to make concrete one's wishes and prayers. They are also I feel light-hearted and add humour to the landscape with the wind doing one's work. I also want to bring attention to the Tibetan tragedy. I love textiles and the flags are so decorative anywhere. They symbolise a connection between the east and west mixing different cultures to increase understanding."

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