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Tiji Festival is an annual three-day festival consisting of Tibetian rituals indigenous to Lo Manthang, Upper Mustang. Tigi originates from the word “Ten Che” which means “hope of Buddhism prevailing in the world of peace”. This festival is celebrated according to the Tibetan Calendar. Tiji Festival is a purification ritual that takes place at the beginning of the Harvest season. This festival is praised in Lo Manthang which is otherwise called the Capital of Lo Kingdom. It is a festival that brings bliss, hope, and light of brightness in a more promising time to occupants or locals of the Mustang region. It is a blissful ceremony that reflects the social personality of Nepali society and Nepali peoples.
The history of the Mustang Tiji Festival goes back to the 17th Century. Mustang was an independent kingdom with close ties with Tibet. The king of Mustang Samdup Rabten invited Sakya Trizin Ngawang Kunga Sinam in Lo Manthang. During Sakya’s stay in Lo Manthang, he performed a special Vajrakila ritual. The ritual advocates the well-being of the Mustang, destroying all negative influencers.
The ritual celebrates the victory of Dorje Jono over the demon. The monks of Chhode monastery have inherited this ancient practice over centuries as they perform rituals every year. The name of this ritual first emerged from the Buddhist term Tenpa Chirim. Early on the 8th Century AD, Buddhist masters from Nepal Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra, and Shilamnju. However, they were responsible for introducing this practice in Tibet. Padmasambhava even contributed to some crucial steps in a sacred dance of Vajrakila at Samye monastery in Tibet.
Later, There was substantial evidence of Vajrakila practiced in Tibet across centuries. Therefore, It is surprising that Tiji Festival survived hundreds of years and is still in practice.
Tiji festival is celebrated for three days performing various activities with meaningful things connected. The day-wise activities of the festival are explained below:
On this first day, Monks along with the offerings gather around in Chhode Gompa monastery during the morning time. During the afternoon, they unveil a 400-year-old hand-embroidered “Thanka” painting of Padmasambhava along with his two dakinis. The monks welcome the art by sounds of drums, Cymbals, and long Copper horns. They offer six bowls of grain and torma served on a wooden altar along with that Esteemed monks sit beneath the Thanka.
The king sits in his private room. To make the attention to him, Tsowo(lead dancer) along with other monks dances and moves downstairs, where the rest of the audience is waiting for them. They dance with consisting of around 52 steps. Tsowo guides his performers through gestures and notions. The whole scene will be lit up with sounds, colors, and aroma. By this, the First day ends and marks pieces of information for the rest of the festival.
On the second day, a similar routine of monks gathers in the square of the monastery and chant the Vajrakila prayers and offerings. Then, they introduce a large “thanka” painting and place it near the previous one. They dance aggressively with weapons in animal forms which has also a core meaning in it. After that, Tsowo releases a dagger symbolizing the end of the evil then fires a knife at a straw statue and tosses it up in the air. Similarly, Tsowo re-enacts the slaying of demon/evil and end their second day with the performance.
On the third day, Like before they gather in the square of the monastery and make offerings and prayers to Vajrakila. Same as the second day, they perform dances in animal forms also and The Tsowo caters to special nectar as blessings from gods. After that, dancers lead the way to escort the king and his family to Khenpo. In conclusion, they exchange greetings to Khenpo and the rest of the monks. Along with that people burn down the dummy of the devil with ceremonial destructions. By this, Tiji Festival ends with offerings and blessings.