Mani Rimdu is celebrated from the first day of the tenth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar (mid-October‒mid-November) to the nineteenth day of the month. This grand Buddhist festival takes place in Tengboche, Chiwong, and Thame monasteries of the high Himalayan region, and the god of compassion, Phakpa Chenrezig, is worshipped during the event. The celebrations culminate in a three-day public festival during which spectators are treated to some pretty exotic dances portraying the victory of Buddhism over the Bon religion.
Tengboche Monastery (3867 m) is the prime site for the Mani Rimdu festival. Located in Tengboche village in Khumbu of eastern Nepal, and dating back to 1916, it is the largest monastery in the area. Tengboche Monastery’s mother monastery is Rongbuk, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Nyingma sect in Basum of Shigatse Perfecture in Tibet. Another interesting thing about Tengboche Monastery is that it is situated within the highest natural park in the world, the Sagarmatha National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one gets fantastic views of some great Himalayan peaks like Tawache, Nuptse, Lhotse, Ama Dablam, Thamserku, and, not to forget, Everest, from here. Tengboche Monastery is, incidentally, the ending point of the ‘Sacred Sites Trail Project’, a trail that goes in a circular path, passing 10 monasteries on the way. All said and done, Tengboche Monastery is a fitting site for the great Mani Rimdu festival.
And, indeed, the Mani Rimdu is a great festival. Throughout the 19 days, monks conduct sacred ceremonies and rituals sanctifying the unique Mandala; the sacred red pills known as Mani Rilwu; the pills for long life known as Tshereel, as well as the Torma. The Mandala is made using colored sand to devise an intricate and beautiful design that is highly symbolic in nature. It symbolizes the palace of the Lord of the Dance. Around the Mandala are placed protective dagger deities, while above its center is placed the bowl containing the sacred Mani Riluwa pills. Monks chant the ritualistic mantras continuously throughout the festival period, thus consecrating the Mandala and the Mani Rilwu pills and empowering them with compassion.
Empowered, too, are the many spectators during the opening public ceremony (Wong) on the full moon day of the tenth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, when his Holiness Trulshig Rinpoche bestows his blessings of happiness, prosperity, and long life on those gathered, who also receive the Mani Rilwu and Tshereel pills from him. The highlights of the second day of Mani Rimdu are the dances (Chham). One dance, called Ser-Kyem, is performed by six dancers depicting Tantric magicians called Ngag-pa. During their dance, they offer tormas as well as alcohol from silver chalices to various deities like Yidam (personal deity) and Khandro (wisdom dakini), as well as to Shi-Dak (Earth deities) and the Lama (spiritual guide).
Another dance, Chhingpa, is performed by four dancers depicting the Four Protecting Ghings who are defenders of the Buddhist religion. Two of the Ghings are females who carry drums while the other two are males carrying cymbals. Each wears a shining colorful paper mask with a perpetually smiling expression, the color being different for each dancer. The females represent wisdom and the males represent means, the union of which is supposed to help in attaining enlightenment. During the performance, the dancers sometimes pretend to charge at the children in the audience, emitting shrill cries from them.
The third dance is gentler and is known as the Dance of the Dakini. It is performed by five young monks who dance to the slow beat of bells and drums in their hands, and the steps, too, are executed in slow motion. They represent feminine spiritual figures, consorts of Guru Padmasambhava, and their dance is to herald the arrival of the Guru at the Mani Rimdu festival. Once the three-day public festival is over, and the spectators have returned to their homes, a special ritual, Jinsak, (the Fire Puja) is performed in the courtyard. The Mandala is also dismantled and the serpent gods (Nagas) in the spring nearby are offered its sand. Thus, the 19-day Mani Rimdu comes to an end, having bestowed many with pills and blessings for long life, happiness, and prosperity in the year ahead.
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