Around the mountain

Around the mountain

The sound of Chams and trumpets was reverberating in the air.

The hymns chanted by lamas and local folk soothed the mind and soul.

I was soaked in silence and felt that lord, too, was witnessing the event as a silent spectator from beyond the mountains.

Saga Dawa is a festival celebrated in the month of Disu (April) by Buddhists to mark three momentous events in Buddha’s life — his birth, Sakyamuni’s enlightenment, and his departure, Parinirvana, from the human world.

Mount Kailash in Tibet is considered holy to the Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. In ancient texts, it is referred to as the centre of the Universe.

The reason can be understood from its geographical significance. Within 30 miles radius are the sources of the mighty rivers — Indus (in north, called Sindhu in India), Sutlej (in west), Brahmaputra (Yarlung Tsang-po, in east) and Karnali (largest tributary to the Ganges, in south).

According to a religious belief, the most sacred time to take up Mt Kailash pilgrimage is during the year of the horse, which 2014 happens to be.

At this time, the site is open first to pilgrims, who would have gathered in hundreds at the mountain’s foot to carry on rituals.

This celebration differs from country to country, but generally, activities are centred in the Buddhist temples, where people gather to listen to sermons by monks.

During the festival, many people refrain from killing animals and give out alms to anyone seeking it.

There may not be loud celebrations everywhere, but even then, the festive spirit in the air can be discerned.

The Hindus regard the peak as Shiva’s symbolic ‘lingam’ and worship it.

Bonpos believe that the sacred mountain is the place where the founder of the Bon religion landed when he descended from the sky.

Tibetan Buddhists believe that Kang Rinpoche, meaning ‘precious snow mountain’, is a natural mandala representing the Buddhist cosmology on earth, and the Jains believe that this place was where the religion’s founder was spiritually awakened.

During the festival, Buddhists undertake a parikrama of the holy mountain.

The outer pilgrimage circuit (chikhor) is about 42 km, and Tibetans can complete the circuit within a day.

A majority of pilgrims try for 13 circuits. Some of them complete circuits performing kyangcha (prostration).

While it takes 14 hours to complete an average circuit, those prostrating can take a couple of weeks.

The ones seeking to secure their path to enlightenment try for 108 circuits.

Buddhists and Hindus travel clockwise around the mountain, while Bonpos travel counter-clockwise.

Each year, the Tarboche flagpole, the huge pole that stands on Mt Kailash’s outer core, is replaced.

People from all over Tibet gather here that day to attach the prayer flags they have brought from home, to pray, and to erect the flagpole.

It is believed that the flagpole should stand upright, if not, all won’t be well for Tibet. Along the sides and on the slope, an hour before the actual rising of the flagpole, people circumambulate it, placed on the ground.

They pray and throw ‘windhorses’ (little pieces of coloured paper with Buddhist scriptures on them) into the air.

They remove last year’s prayer flags and attach new ones.

As a visitor, you are guided to the nearby hills, from where a lot of people watch the spectacle.

There are musicians who play on their horns, trumpets and cymbals. The flagpole is first erected till half-way using A-structures and ropes.

The lama continually instructs them how to do it, when to stop, and when to go on. Everyone helps in pulling the ropes.

That’s the ‘non-organised’ part of it.

The Saga Dawa Festival is truly a celebration that encompasses everyone into its fold, casting aside barriers of nationality, religion or colour.

In fact, being a part of this holy event is such a moving experience that you come back with a sense of inner satisfaction that stays with you for a long time.

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