The festive days of Mani Rimdu celebrate the completion of ten days of prayers of benefits of all beings.
The Story and Purpose of Mani Rimdu
The main purpose of Mani Rimdu is the prayers which worship Phakpa Chenrezig the god of compassion. His blessing brings peace and good fortune to everyone. During Mani Rimdu we invoke Phakpa Chenrezig's blessing on the rilbu, the long life-pills, and perform the dances which showing former times worship this deity.
Mani Rimdu is a fairly recent tradition in Khumbu. For the opening ceremony of Tengboche, Zatul Ngawang Tenzin Norbu of Rongbuk came to consecrate the monastery and the monks performed the dances here for the first time then. Since that event, Mani Rimdu continues at the same time of year. It used to be in the tenth month, but that was very cold for spectators and because of bad weather, difficult for preparation. Now, Mani Rimdu is held in the ninth month, unless a double month shifts it to the tenth.
Each sect and monastery have their own style of dancing. The dances at Tengboche came from Rongbuk. Before the Chinese came, these particular dances were done at Rongbuk, and started at Tengboche. Later, the lama at Chiwong gompa in Solu started Mani Rimdu there. When Thame became established as a celibate monastery, they started performing Mani Rimdu there also. It is held in the ninth month of Tengboche, tenth month at Chiwong and fourth month of Thame. There is no other identical Mani Rimdu anywhere else in Tibet.
When Ngawang Tenzin Norbu started Rongbuk, the Mani Rimdu ceremony there was also small but after more and more tawas came, they decided to have the dancing. They copied dances from other Nyingmapa gompas in Tibet and added some new dances that Ngawang Tenzin Norbu created.
In Tibet, this kind of festival is performed mostly in the fifth month, with the dances on the 10th day. It is called Tse Chu, and is the most important one of the year. A small Tse Chu is done on the tenth day of every month.
Almost every monastery has their own style of doing dancing, at different times of the year and special days of the month. The many different kinds of dances came from the many different movements described in the tantras. The Buddhist Newars also perform dances that came from the Tantra scriptures.
There are monasteries in other areas of Nepal such as Mustang, where they also do dancing, however the dancing is done only for a short time, not all day.
The name Mani Rimdu comes from mani the chant for Phakpa Chenrezig, ril the little red pellets and dub the blessing on the rilbu.
The blessing for the rilbu goes back to when Guru Rinpoche brought religion to Tibet. As well as Nyingma-kama, which he taught directly to the people, there was Nyingma-terma, which were teachings in books hidden for the future. Guru Ringpoche foretold that a time would come when wars and hard times would make the books necessary. The people who found these are the Tertons.
One of these, Tertak Lingba, whose full name was Gyurme Dorje Pema Karwang, found a hidden book called Thuje Chenpo Deshe Kundu. This book belongs to the Ogyen Mindroling College of the Nyingmapa sect and is read for Mani Rimdu. The Tibetan name Thuje Chenpo means Maha Karuna in Sanskrit, which translates as great compassion. Deshe Kundu is the specific name of this book. Thuje Chenpo is also a name used for Jigten. Wangchuk, the main aspects of Phakpa Chenrezig worshipped during the Mani Rimdu pujah.
This book is mostly about drubchen, a very powerful pujah body to invoke Phakpa Chenrezig.
Mani Rimdu starts on the first day of the ninth month with Sa-chog, the earth pujah to the gods of the four directions that consecrates the place where the pujah will take place. Thig-kor, the preparations of making torma and using colored sand to make the mandala, called the Dul-tson Kyil-khor begin the same day and continue until the fourth day.
From the fifth to the fourteenth days, the monks do the pujah called Ngo Zhi Cho-pa, that goes all day and night. In the morning the main pujah is to the action aspect of Phakpa Chenrezig, Lhachen Wangchuk, and then to the god Maha-kala, the protector of the Buddhist faith. Pujahs to other gods are done by turn, three one day, then three the next.
For the Whang, on the fifteenth day, people come for the lama's blessing and to receive the rilbu. On the sixteenth day, the monks worship Phakpa Chenrezig by dancing. There are sixteen dances. The dances aim to prevent interference, accidents, impediments, change of mind, faith, or hindrance by sin. The seventeenth day concludes with jinsak, a fire pujah.
The Blessing Ceremony
On the fifteenth morning, the tawas receive a blessing themselves and in the afternoon people come for the lama's blessing and to receive the rilbu.
There are many kinds of whangs, blessings, and this is a tor whang. Many torma have been made for the whang, in pyramids representing mandalas. During the whang, Ringpoche and the tawas visualize a mandala that cleanses the sins of the people so they may gain merit. They distribute the rilbu over which the mani has been chanted. The rilbu are chelab pills that generally cure or make the path after life a little easier. These rilbu contain relics from Guru Rinpoche's ter (spiritual treasures) that will bless our bodies.
The Cham (Masked Dances)
On the sixteenth day, are the dances that worship Phakpa Chenrezig. Each dance relates to a pujah done during the previous days.
The dances come from when Guru Rinpoche blessed Samye, the first monastery in Tibet. He pretended to be his favorite god by imitating its body and danced the blessing. Since then, some lamas think they will see these dances in Dewachen. Cham means sacred dance.
There are many gods in Tibet who used to wear these costumes. The black hats were the costumes of the Phembu gods. Then it became the dress of the original ngagpas (married lamas) when they did the thu-duph, a powerful pujah. Later it became the dancing dress of monks and ngagpas.
Rol-cham is the grand entrance of the monks wearing yellow hats and playing pujah instruments.
Serkyem is the first dance with dancers wearing costumes and black hats. This dance invokes tse gyepa (improving one's life, longevity, appearance health and intelligence), whang (providing spiritual power) and thub (the ability to fight bad spirits). The black hats represent ngagpa or Vajrayana priest capable of using spiritual powers.
Ging-cham is the dance by four attendants of Dorje Trollo. Two females carry nga (drums) and two males carry buk-chal (cymbals). They make offerings of tsog to Dorje Trollo.
Guru Dorje Trollo is a single masked dancer representing one of the fierce forms of Guru Rinpoche. He is preceded by monks playing instruments.
Nga-cham originated as Guru Rinpoche's dance when he blessed Samye gompa. The six dancers wear golden hats with peacock feathers and carry drums. In the past Tibetan officials wore the golden hat.
Durdag-cham is a complicated dance with two skeletons and two black-hat dancers. The skeletons carry a dough figure, representing evil, on a rope between them. It is symbolically destroyed by the black hat dancers.
Mi Tsering, the long life man, is a comic interlude.
The Maha-kala dance has eight characters all representing different deities: Tseringma (the main long-life sister), Maha-kala (the protector), and Mahadeva (Lhachen Whangchuk) are the main ones.
Zurra-rakye, a local protective god, carries a goat horn and long stick. Two minaks (attendants) accompany him. He is the guardian of Khenpalung, a hidden valley that has not yet been opened.
Khaadro are five female deities of wisdom often referred to as the sky dancers.
Thog-den makes an appearance in the second comic dance. This is the only dance with any speaking as he jokes with his assistant or the crowd and teaches religion.
Lhagma has the purpose of getting rid of left over rilbu, long life pills. Two masked dancers, one male and one female, perform this task.
Ti-jum is a cham where four masked dancers carry knives.
Zor-cham is a ritual exorcism in which dancers wearing black-hats carry small torma, lok-par, that signify evil. The dancers throw out these torma.
Then-cham also functions to get rid of evil. Half of the dancers wear black hats, the other half masks.
Log-cham is the finale with some dancers from each cham.
For the different gods, there are different ways of praying, chanting or dancing that help make the gods closer to the dancer, and eventually a part of him, helping everyone. Sometimes from prayers, deep thinking or meditation, the same happens. This makes the country peaceful and in the future will help everyone.
Source: Stories and Customs of the SHERPAS As told by Ngawang Tenzin Zangbu Abbot of Tengboche Monastery.
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