TIJI FESTIVAL Trek is a trek in Upper Mustang celebrating the annual Tiji Festival in Lo Manthang. Tiji Festival is a three days event, always held in third Tibetan Month (Month of May). It is performed in the square in front of the (Mustang King’s Palace) Tashi Gephel Palace, within the walled city of Lo Manthang, Mustang. Tiji Festival Trek allows one to witness, celebrate and take part in this significant festival of people of Mustang.
Tiji festival is one of the most well known and revered festival in Upper Mustang. It is a time of celebration and religious pilgrimage for the people of Mustang. The festival initially began as a religious ceremony, to ward off obstacles and suffering that might befall the country. Later it has also come to symbolize the hope and strength of the people of Mustang. Mustang lies in the rain shadows of the Himalayas and has environmental difficulties, yet its situation along the main salt trade route made it a highly prized location regularly invaded by neighboring states. So, Tiji Festival is a fervent prayer by the King and Queen for peace and stability in Mustang. You can also read our blog about History of Tiji festival.
Tiji Festival first day:
The morning begins with the assembly of monks and offerings of Vajrakila prayers in Chode Gompa. The afternoon sees a flurry of activity in the square. Amidst the blare of traditional long copper horns or dungchen and the beating of drums and cymbals, an enormous scroll painting or thanka depicting Padmasambhava is unfurled on the south wall of the square. This thangka is said to be more than 400 years old, and hand embroidered with an image of Padmasambhava and two dakinis. After having offered incense ngagpas or tantric practitioners, from Lo-Manthang offer six bowls of grain and torma on a wooden altar. This is followed by the arrival of monks in red pointed hats who take a seat beneath the unfurled thangka. The Khempo or abbot of the Chode Gompa is seated on a slightly higher dias in the centre flanked at the far end by monks blowing the dungchen.
Amidst the chanting of hymns and offering of prayers the masked dances begin. This is eagerly watched by the people gathered in the square on Palace. The masked dancers start the dance from the Mustang royal palace with a private audience for the King in his private room. The Tsowo who can be recognized by the most elaborate headgear, makes offerings and thus starts the ceremony. Together they then gradually leave the palace and move down the square where the public and travelers eagerly waits. Over a period of about 2 hours the Tsacham is performed; a gentle and slow masked dance featuring graceful movements and turns. The Tsowo dances in the centre flanked all around by the other dancers in the form of a Mandala. A total of about 52 different forms of steps are performed. The masked dances represent the preparation or invoking of the gods and the purification and preparation of the soil on which the dances are performed. The Tsowo guides his fellow dancers in to each form by signaling each change by a verbal command. To the untrained eye such subtle changes and steps are seamless.
Tiji Festival second day:
The morning of the second day begins again with offerings of prayers to Vajrakila and an assemble in the monastery. The afternoon starts with the unfurling of another large thangka a near replica of the earlier one.
The Masked dances on the second day are more active and are executed in a more aggressive style. Weapons and animal forms are seen in the dance sequence on this day, representing the various means used to drive away evil. The final act is the slaying of the demon. This is depicted by the piercing of the straw effigy by Tsowo with the religious dagger. This symbolizes the evil demon being slayed by the deity Dorje Shunu. The straw effigy is then thrown into the air.
Tiji Festival Third day:
On the third and final day the morning begins again with offerings of prayers to Vajrakila by the monks in the monastery. In the afternoon, Tsowo offers ritualistic offerings of nectar as an appeal for help from all the gods. Before and after the effigy is cut, there are again dances by monks wearing masks depicting animals. Finally the dances come to an end with the formation of raucous procession led by the masked dancers and followed by the King and members of the royal family, representatives of the village development committees and the local people. In the Mustang King’s Palace the final celebrations are made by offering prayers. There is much rejoicing with the offering of Tsampa to the gods amidst a whirl of white on the rooftop of the palace. Finally there is an exchange of greeting between the King and Khempo and other monks. The peoples of Mustang express their great luck and fortune at being able to witness yet another Tiji Festival and they pray that many more good years follow.