Stok Guru Tsechu is a very unique monastic festival that takes place in the sacred land of Ladakh. Apart from the famous mask dance, its highlight is the awaited oracles’ prediction for the coming year.
Guru Rinpoche’s birthday and the Winter Festival
The Stok Guru Tsechu Festival is held in the first month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, the holy prayer month. It is celebrated in accordance with Guru Rinpoche’s (Padmasambhava) birthday which falls on the 9th and 10th day of the first Tibetan month.Next year 2017,winter Shamanic festival will be held on 6th to 7th March 2017 and 24th and 25th February in the year 2018.
Stok village, where the festival takes place, offers the great view down the valley on the mighty Indus river and the majestic snow-capped Stok Kangri Mountain (6,153m above sea level). Every now and then one gets easily delighted by the festive vibes that the locals emanate in their colourful attire.
The day of spiritual gathering and meeting of spiritual masters
The monasteries have served as a source of spiritual tutelage in Ladakh for hundreds of years. Every Ladakhi monastery stores centuries-old Buddhist scripts: kagyur (108 texts of Buddhist canons) and tengyur (235 commentaries texts). Monks and nuns residing in monasteries are taught, guided and looked after by an incarnated lama, the head of the monastery.
The festival is a platform where villagers take the opportunity to serve their spiritual masters and the monastery in its turn entertains its long-bearing benefactors through a colourful Cham or mask dance. The villagers are introduced to different manifestations of Tantric Buddhas through the means of religious dance performed by the monks who are in turn disguised in sacred costumes, ornaments and huge masks resembling different Buddhas.
Cham dance of Laughing Buddha, Mahakala and more
Once all the preparations have been done, the series of cham begins. In the morning session starts with the dance of Hashang and Hathuk. Hashang has a bald head, pot belly and a big smile on his face, and he is escorted by his twelve children that all look like him. Hashang or the Laughing Buddha in China is considered the main benefactor of all the Buddhas who will descend to earth to preach the Dharma.
The dance of Hashang is followed by the dance of Mahakala, the wrathful form of Buddha of Compassion, who wears a fierce mask topped with skulls. Then, Namse or Buddha of Wealth appears in a peaceful form wearing a white mask.
As the events unfold, the cham dance is continued with the appearance of the protector Chamsing, Palden Lhamo as well as Deer and Zo (hybrid of yak and cow) and it is finally concluded with the dance of Black Hat.
Shamanic oracles, The chosen two
As the sun sets down above the high rocky mountains of Stok range, the two oracles appear in the monastery courtyard. Fully possessed and in trance, they are escorted to the main temple by monks, lay people and two Deer mask dance perfomers. They are being glorified with the high baritone trumpets blown by the monks along with cymbals, drums and a group of lay musicians playing traditional drums and pipes.
It is believed that there are seven oracles residing in Ladakh. Two of them are in Stok village, two in Matho village, other two in Gya village and one in Skurbuchan village. The story tells that their origin dates back to the pre-Buddhist era where Shamanism or Bon was prevailing in Tibet. As Guru Rinpoche subdued all the shamanic energy and converted them into Buddhism in the 8th century AD, they took pledge to protect the Buddha Dharma since then.
The two oracles in Stok village are chosen according to the tradition. They are sometimes chosen in the families of lay people as inherit or at other times they are just monks. Nevertheless, the chosen oracles are instructed to maintain strict retreat discipline during one month or more relying on vegetarian diet.
Once the oracles are in trance, they start to run over and over on the high edge of the monastery roof in their white attires and crowns. Down in the courtyard throngs of observers bend down with their folded hands to catch a glimpse of their long-awaited oracles and to receive their blessing.
Long-awaited Oracles’ predictions for the year ahead
As time approaches for the prediction, oracles shouting hymns of praise to their deities sharpen their swords on the edge of courtyard wall to frighten and to diminish the evil energy. They are then offered Chang (Ladakhi home-made beer) and Tsampa (roasted barley flour) and their entourage seek predictions for the year ahead. The predictions the oracles make are taken seriously by the villagers and they are later broadcast on the local radio.
Ladakh, Festivals, Religion, Bönism, Ladakh festivals