Monday, November 05, 2007

Praying for peace ~the Sikkim way

Bishal Cintury captures the solemnity of the Mask Dance festival and the joy and wonder the occasion had for locals and tourists alike

SIKKIM enjoys an enviable reputation, as much for its peaceful environment and natural beauty as its culture. Recently, around 4,000 people gathered to observe the Mask (Kagyed) Dance at Old Rumtek Monastery, 26 km from Gangtok. Monks in traditional attire, beating drums, cymbals and blowing on long, golden hollow pipes, chanted mantras, while tourists were enthralled with the masks they wore of bulls, pigs, hornbills, snow lions and dragons. The festivity is held to ward off demons, evil shadows and curses from the state for a year. The monks came from different monasteries.
The Mask Dance falls on the 29th day of the 10th month of the Sikkimese lunar Buddhist calendar every year and is celebrated in a grand manner at three heritage monasteries — the Old Rumtek Monastery in the East, and Ralang and Phodong Monastries in the South and North districts respectively. The Old Rumtek Monastery is closest to Gangtok and was built in 1722. It has completed 284 years and the Kagyu Buddhists gather here once a year to pray for peace and prosperity and watch the Kagyed Dance that welcomes the Sikkimese New Year just two days before the Losoong festival (Sikkimese Dushera) starts in the state. In the Bhutia language, “Lo” means year and “Soong” means “new”.
“There are five types that involve the Kagyed Dance, which are known as Sangdikokar, Chaksipa, Sewa, Singzong and Sena, and these are performed one by one by the monks in the monastery premises. The performance is held only in the Kagyu sect monasteries of the state,” says Phurba Bhutia, a member of the Dutche (organising committee).
It is learnt that the Kagyu sect of Sikkim is of old lineage and finds reflection in Bhutan, which is presently known as Drukpa Kagyu, which comes under the Royal Princess of Bhutan. The Nyingmapa sect originated from ancient times since the old King (Chogyal) of Sikkim and marks an especial identity for the king and his people, a sentiment that is still held dear though Sikkim Sikkim merged with India in 1975.
A week-long worship of the guardian deity, Maha Kala, was held, with Buddhists bowing with great obedience in front of the big mask of Maha Kala in the monastery premises that was adorned with khadaas (traditional garlands) and incense. The festivities concluded with exorcising devils and evils spirits through effigies burned at the end of the Masked Dance. Buddhist mythology holds that the guardian spirit of Sikkim will protect against any hurdles.
Apart from locals, foreign tourists pouring into the state from different parts of the world gathered to catch the glimpses of colorful dance and record proceedings on their movie and still cameras. Poor locals set up fast food stalls in the monastery premises and tourists enjoyed themselves.
“Sikkim is so rich in its culture that India really has to be proud of it. The people out here is so humble,” said Gareth Weston, a visitor from the UK. “The colorful Mask Dance really fascinated me and I would love to stay back for a longer period but my visa won’t allow that. Now I know why foreign students come here to research and study Buddhism because it’s so interesting to know about. I really don’t know anything about the Buddhism of Sikkim but the Kagyed Dance interested me a lot,” he said.