9th Jan – Bodhgaya.
Guru Rinpoche comes to the dance
On the eighth day after the close of the Kagyu Monlam, the Karmapa was welcomed to Druk Ngawang Thubten Chokling, the monastery of the Shabdrung of Bhutan. A jubilant crowd lined both sides of the road into the monastery courtyard holding offering scarves to greet the Karmapa’s car. Two dancers performed in front of the car while a group playing music on conch, horns and cymbals accompanied his vehicle. He was seated under a golden canopy on the throne usually reserved for the Yangsi Shabdrung, who was recognised by the Karmapa in 2004 but is not yet permitted to leave Bhutan.
Sonam Dorje, the Shabdrung’s attendant exclaimed how wonderful it was to have the presence of Guru Rinpoche himself in the form of the Karmapa. ” To see this kind of sacred dance in Bodhgaya where all the buddhas are enlightened, is very rare; and to see it in the presence of the Karmapa, who is Guru Rinpoche in human form, makes it an even more special occasion.”
It was the third and last day of the Guru Rinpoche dance. Cham or sacred dance is considered to be part of the ‘thong drol’ tradition—liberation by seeing. It is not an entertainment but a sacred dance which should be both performed and watched in a meditative state. As if by arrangement, the sun came out from the thick blanket of fog covering Bodhgaya, enlivening the sparkling brocades of the dancers as they relaxed into meditation and performed 3 dances: Dance of the Drum Beaters, Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds, and Tshokling – a dance to pacify those who would harm the dharma. Their movements were flexible like swans, flowing from one graceful step to the next in an elegant, well-rehearsed, confident performance.
The Karmapa watched with absorption, taking short breaks while the comic actors were strutting about, to talk intimately with the Khenpo of the monastery, Tshokey Dorje . Three dances and two hours later, he departed from the arena as smoothly as he had entered. The dances went on with light-hearted joy for the rest of the day, including the dance of the 8 manifestations of Guru Rinpoche, after a mid-day lunch break. It felt like Guru Rinpoche was there the whole time, embodied in Karmapa, and then in blessing form through the masked dancers.