Mani Rimdu – Vanquishing the Demons

Based on the Tibetan lunar calendar, the festival of Mani Rimdu in Nepal will commence at the time of the full moon in the middle of October – with the last three days of the festival open to the general public.

The Mani Rimdu Festival depicts the victory of Buddhism over the ancient Tibetan “Bon” religion with ceremonies performed by the monks of the Chiwong and Tengboche monasteries. The festival is a noisy and colorful occasion and takes place in a spectacular setting in the Solu Khumbu region of Nepal surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the world – Thamserku, Kangteiga, and Taboche – with the summit of Mount Everest visible in the distance.

Spectators of the Mani Rimdu will experience a special blessing ceremony given by the Trulshig Rinpoche, the highly venerated reincarnated lama. The teacher’s name means “Precious Destroyer of Illusion”, which is derived from the title of Rinpoche, which means “Precious One”, together with “trul”, meaning “illusion”, and “shig”, meaning “kill” in Tibetan.

The performance by monks of the renowned “Mask Dances” during Mani Rimdu, is a spectacular and memorable event. This starts with a monk, playing master of ceremonies, dramatically pushing the audience back to clear an area around the courtyard of the gompa (Buddhist temple) for the dancers. Once he is satisfied, the masked dance drama can begin. Heralds and incense bearers appear in the gompa entrance and slowly walk down the steps in single file, followed by musicians, some blowing bugles and clarions, while others beat drums and clash cymbals. Clapping and cheering by spectators are considered unnecessary and inappropriate, so the audience watches in silence.

The first dance begins with eight dancers in vibrant costumes sweeping down into the courtyard. They move in clockwise circles around the altar making offerings of food and drink to the Buddhist gods. The following event during the Mani Rimdu Festival is a depiction by masked dancers of the Buddhist faith being protected against demon attack by the Four Protecting Kings.

The shrieking of horns and loud drumming precedes the much anticipated dance of Padmasambhaya, who is considered to be a second Buddha in Tibet. At last Padmasambhaya slowly emerges from the gompa. In his right hand he holds a vajra (thunderbolt of the gods), while in his left hand he wields a sacred dagger to be used in fighting off the demons. This dance is symbolic of the defeat of the evil spirits of the Bon religion by Buddhism. The Dance of the Celestial Drums, which follows, is a celebration of this victory.

The remaining dances of the day depict various aspects of life, many with a humorous twist to them. As the Mani Rimdu day draws to a close, rolls of parchment with ritual prayers written on them are burnt, to the accompaniment of chanted prayers. Everyone can rest, assured that goodness and peace will reign once more – all evil demons have been banished.