For 4 days each winter, Labrang Monastery in China’s Gansu province performs host to a wide ranging pageant on an epic scale, a riot of coloration, music, and even scent, all wrapped in deep spirituality and centuries-old custom.
The most important Tibetan Buddhist monastery exterior the Tibetan Autonomous Area, Labrang attracts 1000’s of pilgrims who’ve come to take part in these ceremonies, marking the conclusion of a interval of prayer and meditation, often called Monlam, firstly of the Tibetan New Yr.
An enormous sacred portray is unfurled down the aspect of a hill, ritual dancers in animal masks gyrate for hours on finish, and monks proudly show intricate, towering sculptures made completely of yak butter.
Learn on to find extra, and learn how to seize a front-row to expertise the unforgettable sights and sounds of the Monlam pageant.
Day One: Unveiling the Buddha
The ceremonies start with the show of the monastery’s large thangka, an elaborate multicolored tapestry bearing a picture of the Buddha, on the aspect of a hill throughout the river from the monastery. Simply how “large” is the thangka? At 30 meters by 20 meters, it’s about as tall as Rio de Janiero’s Christ the Redeemer statue!
That is probably the most well-known Monlam occasion at Labrang, and the one that pulls the most important crowds, each of Tibetan pilgrims and Han Chinese language vacationers. However don’t fear about discovering a great place to look at, there’s a large subject on the foot of the hill and the gang by no means will get too dense.
At 10:00am, the ceremony begins on the left aspect of the monastery’s fundamental corridor. The thangka is carried out (rolled up) by an extended, snaking procession of monks via the streets of the monastery advanced. You’ll see pilgrims sprint as much as contact the rolled-up thangka to obtain its blessing, usually tussling with grey-robed temple guards whose mission it’s to ensure the thangka arrives safely at its vacation spot.
Round half an hour later, the thangka is slowly carried up the hill and simply as slowly unrolled, accompanied by the regular beat of drums and cymbals. As soon as your complete picture is revealed, pilgrims bow right down to pay homage, with some tossing bundled-up white silk khata scarves in direction of the thangka as an providing.
Total, ambiance is fairly relaxed for a non secular ceremony, and also you’ll discover most individuals, each Han Chinese language and Tibetan, are most involved with taking the right photograph. With the thangka on show for about half an hour earlier than being rolled up as soon as once more, there’s loads of time to get the shot excellent.
Day Two: Dancing with the Satan
The second day options the cham dance, a ritual involving dozens of performers elaborately costumed as deities and demons, main outsiders to dub the efficiency “the satan dance”. The dance is held within the vast plaza in entrance of the primary corridor, with the “stage” drawn in chalk on the paving stones.
In case you arrive an hour early, round 9:00am, you’re assured entrance row seats, however make sure that to come back ready. Veteran locals carry a stool or a cushion to take a seat on. This isn’t solely to remain snug through the 4 hour-long efficiency (sure, it actually does take 4 hours!) but additionally to stake their place, as organizers will push standing spectators additional again to accommodate the rising crowds.
Whereas the costumes and masks of the dancers are eye-catching of their element and coloration, the motion itself is sluggish and repetitive, backed by the regular, monotonous beating of drums and rattle of cymbals. It could appear just a little boring, but it surely’s presupposed to be that method – religious Buddhists take the dance as an train in meditation, and an opportunity to spiritually join with the deities portrayed.
In case you don’t have the stamina to make it via your complete dance, you’ll have one other likelihood to see your complete spectacle in a procession that leaves the primary sq. heading west, to the village on the sting of the monastery.
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A few half hour after the dance is completed and the performers have had a well-deserved lunch (bowls of butter tea and handfuls of yak meat), the entire costumed dancers, together with the monks carrying their horns and drums, make their method to a subject on the outskirts of the city. That is the place a bonfire and firecrackers carry the day’s rituals to an thrilling finish.
Day Three: The Stunning Great thing about Butter
The third day hosts what will be the most stunning occasion of Monlam, a show of colourful, elaborate sculptures crafted by the monks. Taking a look at these creations, it’s virtually unattainable to guess what they’re fabricated from: yak butter, a surprisingly sturdy materials within the frigid winter temperatures.
Beginning within the late afternoon, the towering, multi-stage sculptures are rigorously introduced out from their workshops and assembled in entrance of the primary corridor. Round 7pm, as soon as the solar has set, the monks maintain a brief ceremony in the primary plaza to kick off the show.
By this time, nonetheless, your complete monastery may have been roped off, with just one slender entrance on the far western finish the place crowds line as much as stroll previous the sculptures and see them up shut. Most pilgrims will solely have the ability to watch this on one of many large TV screens arrange on the entrance to the monastery.
The butter sculptures keep on show lengthy into the evening, so there’s no must rush to get in line. Whereas the wait can final for hours early within the night, after 11:00pm it might take lower than ten minutes to go from the beginning of the road to the tip, and also you’ll have the ability to take in the sweetness and the main points of every carving with out being pushed alongside by the crowds.
Day 4: The Remaining Procession
After the sights and sounds of the previous few days, the ultimate ritual of Monlam is fairly low key. Beginning, after all, at 10:00am, all of the monks of Labrang stroll in procession across the total size of the monastery, carrying a statue of Maitreya, the longer term Buddha, in a golden sedan chair (hidden from view behind golden curtains), together with banners, drums, and different sacred pictures.
The procession begins at a small shrine to the left of the primary corridor, a brief stroll up the hill. Treading over non secular symbols and elaborate designs painted within the mud to mark the event, the procession goes additional up the hill and follows the pilgrims’ path surrounding the monastery.
It’s not arduous to seek out a great place to look at the procession, simply keep in mind one cardinal rule: as an indication of respect, don’t stand greater than the Buddha. Many vacationers, photographers, and even pilgrims be taught this the arduous method, staking out a perch on the cliffs above the pilgrims’ path, solely to be shooed away by monks on the final minute, simply earlier than the procession arrives their method.
Don’t Miss Monlam!
The 4 days of Labrang’s Monlam celebrations are a very unforgettable expertise. Even probably the most seasoned traveler is bound to be moved not solely by the spectacular rituals placed on by the monks, however simply as a lot by the deep religion and proud tradition of the 1000’s of pilgrims who converge on the monastery throughout Monlam.
For anybody who finds themselves in China this winter, a detour to this fascinating nook of Gansu (or a cease right here alongside an extended trek throughout the Silk Street and the Himalayas) is a certain to be the spotlight of any journey itinerary.
Journey Ideas & Recommendation for the Monlam Pageant
When to See Monlam
The thangka unveiling ceremony is held on the 13th day of the primary month of the Chinese language lunar calendar. In 2017, this fell on February 9 on the Gregorian calendar. This yr, it should start on February 28, 2018. The cham dance, butter lamp show and Maitreya procession will happen on March 1, 2, and three, respectively.
Getting there and Getting Round
Buses to Xiahe (夏河), the city the place Labrang Monastery is positioned, depart from Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, departing the Lanzhou south bus station (兰州汽车南站) each few hours. You too can attain Xiahe from the Lanzhou airport, first taking the airport bus to Linxia (临夏) after which switching to a bus to Xiahe. The journey takes about six hours in complete.
The place to Keep
Rooms refill quick, particularly at lodges near the monastery such because the Abroad Tibetan Lodge (华侨饭店) and Baoma Lodge (宝马宾馆, 77 Renmin Lu, +86 0941 7121 078) Attempt to ebook no less than three weeks prematurely. If time is tight, lodges a bit additional out ought to nonetheless have loads of rooms accessible. The Vacation Weekend Lodge (拉卜楞假周旅馆, 514 Buxing Jie, +86 0941 7224 999) lower than 5 minutes away by taxi, is an effective wager. For extra lodging choices in Xiahe, click on right here to see rooms and evaluations on Reserving.com.
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The publish A Journey Information to Experiencing the Tibetan Monlam Pageant in China appeared first on Goats On The Street.