One of the most auspicious festivals in the Upper Mustang region of Nepal, Tiji is a part of the meditation practice based on the Tantra text related to Vajra Kumar (Vajra Kila). In the Mustangi (Lobo) dialect, it is pronounced as Tiji (or Tenchi). It is celebrated to mark the victory of good over evil. According to a Buddhist mythology, once a demon was destroying what is now known as Mustang region. He spread disease and dried water up. Dorje Jono valiantly fought and defeated this demon. Tiji festival marks his victory with prayer chants and colourful dances.
Also known as Dorje Phurba, Vajrakila, or Vajrakumar, Dorje Jono is the name of a deity in Vajrayana Buddhism, which is an age-old Buddhist practice in India and Nepal. Later on, the Buddhist masters like Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra and Shilamnju (of Nepal) introduced this practice to Tibet during the 8th century CE. Whereas Padamasambhava initially instructed the major steps of the sacred dance of Vajrakila at Samye Monastery in Tibet, Chhode Monastery at Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang is famous for the performance of this sacred dance at present.
However, the Tiji Festival in Upper Mustang did not start until the 17th century, when the Mustangi King Samdup Rabten invited Sakya Trizin Ngawang Kunga Sinam to Lo Manthang. He stayed at Lo Manthang’s Chhode Monastery and performed the special Vajrakila ritual for the wellbeing of all sentient beings. Since then, the monks of Chhode Monastery have been performing this three day religious dance in the courtyard of Mustang Royal Palace in Lo-Manthang every year. Previously, it used to be performed at the end of the twelfth month of the Tibetan calendar, but nowadays it is performed during third month of the Tibetan calendar (May). As Tiji is a lunar festival, the dates are different every year.
In preparation to the festival, Tsowo, the main dancer, has to complete a three month retreat before the main event. Members of the Mustang royal family and all the villagers of the seven provinces of Upper Mustang (Lo Chhodun) observe this sacred dance, which is accompanied by many rituals. There are two kinds of activities in the build-up to the meditation: first, peaceful dance steps, followed by the subjugation of negative elements, depicted in the mêlée or second stage of the dance. The dance ritual has three major stages. The preliminary part consists of 15 steps. In the main part, the ‘generation of the celestial palace’ and ‘generation of deities’ are depicted in two steps. In final part, there are steps, which clear away eternal and nihilistic views and render auspiciousness. If observed with faith and reverence, the observation of these dance steps is believed to clear away obstacles of life.
Once an independent kingdom, Upper Mustang, a remote area by the Tibetan border, is closely tied to Tibet in terms of language and culture. Its strategic location granted Mustang a control over trade between the Himalaya and India from 15th to 17th century. It was annexed by Nepal at the end of the 18th century. However, the monarchy ceased to exist in 2008. The last king Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista passed away in 2016. His ancestor, the warrior Ame Pal, had founded the Buddhist kingdom in 1380 and built much of Lo manthang.
Don’t miss Tiji festival in Upper Mustang next time around. Let us guide you to the adventurous trip to Mustang for this auspicious festival !!!