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The Great Cham Dance


24 February, 2017 – Monlam Pavilion, Bodhgaya

The ritual preceding the Cham—an offering of the Fifth Shamar’s abridged form of the Sixth Karmapa’s text Incinerating the Hostile—began at 11.00pm on the 24th February. Vigorous chanting accompanied by the beat of both large temple drums and  hand-held drums, punctuated by a crescendo of cymbals, gyalins, great horns and the wailing of kanglins [thigh-bone trumpets] could be heard all night across the vast grounds of the Garchen, the Monlam Pavilion and Tergar Monastery.  Finally, at 5.30am the ritual finished, exactly on time.

The stage was set for the next major event of the Gutor, the great Cham dance.

On one level this ritual dance, unique to Tibetan Buddhism and performed only by monastics, might seem a colourful spectacle set to a strange Read the rest of this article

Gutor Day Four: Great Encampment Mahakala Puja, Day 3


24 February, 2017 – Monlam Pavilion, Bodhgaya
After only a few hours of sleep, rinpoches, lamas, khenpos, monks, and nuns reassembled in the Pavilion in the middle of the night to begin the third day of the Great Encampment Mahakala pujas. There was a surprising chill in the air at 2 am as they started the medium-length text, the Abridged Incinerating the Hostile. For the previous two days, the longer version of this text had been used by the main assembly, while relay teams of young monks did something else: one group chanted Mahakala’s mantra in an unbroken stream, while another sang his kangwa (prayer for fulfillment of impaired samaya) over and over. Chanting continuously in this way throughout the breaks and overnight, the two teams of young monks performed the task assigned to them by the dorje lopon (vajra master). Incidentally, the Mahakala text used Read the rest of this article

Gutor Day Two: Incinerating the Hostile


22 February, 2017 – Monlam Pavilion, Bodhgaya
Almost overnight the Kagyu Monlam Pavilion had transitioned from a cool, elegant space appropriate for sutric-based prayers for world peace into a fiery, dramatic hall dedicated to the wrathful practices of those fierce deities who protect the dharma, and in particular the lineage of the Gyalwang Karmapa. The first day of the Great Encampment Mahakala Main Puja began at 4 am today. And although the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa did not personally attend, esteemed rinpoches, khenpos, monks, and nuns, led by His Eminence Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche, impressed lay devotees with their powerful melodious chanting accompanied by cymbals, horns, drums, and occasional bouts of eerie, rhythmically-timed guttural utterances.

The text being used this year for the main puja is the longest ritual of Mahakala Bernakchan in the Karma Read the rest of this article

Gutor Day One: Protector Practices to Prepare for the Blossoming of the New Year


21 February, 2017 – Monlam Pavilion, Bodhgaya

For over three hundred years, from the time of the Fourth to Tenth Karmapa, the Karmapas traveled extensively in what was known as the Great Encampment. This allowed them to reach disciples all over Tibet with great flexibility and spontaneity. From the time of the Seventh Karmapa (1454-1506), the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo as well took place wherever the Karmapa happened to be on the date for the event. Following in this tradition, the Monlam Pavilion in Bodh Gaya is a flexible, open space that transforms into whatever is needed at the time.

Its latest reincarnation is as a protector shrine or gönkhang, which can be found at most Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, though they are often off limits to the uninitiated. The Pavilion has been magnificently arranged for the rituals of Gutor—six days of extensive Read the rest of this article