1881 - Sarat Chandra Das (Scholar, Bengal Educational Service)
Celebrations at Tashilhunpo 1
December 15. To-day was the twenty-fifth of the tenth Tibetan moon, and one of the greatest holidays of the Gelugpa Church, being the anniversary of the death of Tsongkhapa. It is known as Gada namchoi. In every chapel new torma of tsamba [A torma is a small cone of varying in height from a few inches to a foot or more, made of tsamba, butter, sugar, etc. Sometimes the surface is coloured, and some torma are of great size. They are placed in front of the altars in rows, and are propitiatory offerings.] take the place of the old ones, which are now thrown away.
In the evening the monks of Tashilhunpo busied themselves illuminating their chapels. Hundreds of butter-lamps were tastefully placed in rows on the roof of every building in the lamasery. The Government supplies butter to every house in the town and to every resident monk, to enable them to contribute towards the illumination. From the roof of my house I saw the illuminations to great advantage. The fantastic roofs of the four tombs (gyophig) of the Tashi lamas were beautifully lit up. The mitre-shaped spires, the upturned eaves of the temple looked most gorgeous, and resembled the illuminated tajiahs in a mohurum procession m India. The great monastery of Tashilhunpo, situated as it is at the foot of a hill, presented a magnificent appearance. For an hour the illumination was beautiful, but towards 7.30 o'clock the wind began to blow a gale, and had soon extinguished all the lights and driven me into my house shivering with cold.
One of the newly incarnated lamas of Tashilhunpo, who had just arrived from the province of Tu-kham, in Eastern Tibet, took advantage of to-day being a holiday to get himself admitted into the tu-kham tsan order of monks. He invited the Panchen from Kun-khyab ling, and presented to 3800 monks a tanka each, making also large presents to the Grand Lama (of Lhasa ?), his court, and the College of Incarnate Lamas. At about 8 a.m. his holiness, the Panchen, arrived, and was received with due honours by the monks and State officials. The road for about 300 yards was lined with red broadcloth and banners. Some old lamas stood in a profoundly reverential attitude on either side of the road, bearing divers sacred objects to receive the Panchen's chyag-wang (blessing). Chinese trumpets, melodious flutes (gyaling), and great resounding horns (dung ch'en) sounded in his honour. He took his seat on an altar in the grand hall of worship (Tso khang), to preside over the inaugural ceremonies. By 10 o'clock the ceremony was over, and we saw the monks returning cheerfully to their cells, each bearing a large flat cake, sticks of candy, and strings of beads. The new incarnation, now admitted as a novice in Tashilhunpo, had gone through the usual course of moral discipline and study like any other monk. Within a year from the date of admission, every monk is required to pass an examinations in selections from the sacred books, of which he must feat from memory, and without a single mistake, 125 leaves. Candidates coming from outside Tibet are generally allowed three years to prepare for their final admission, which gives them the privileges of a resident monk, with an allowance of food. Any one failing to pass the final examination forfeits his rights to residence and his allowances. Once admitted, the monk may rise, by dint of industry and study, to the various degrees of lamahood.
At noon there was a large crowd between Tashilhunpo and the Shigatse djong (fort) - men and women in holiday dress, monks from the lamaseries, and not a few Chinese, to witness the annual rope-dancing. A long rope was stretched from the top of the fort to the foot of the lower castle bridge, a distance of 300 feet or more. Then an athlete appeared, a white khatag tied around his neck, and took his place at the upper end of the rope. With his face turned upwards he invoked the gods; then, looking downwards, he invoked the nagas of the nether world, raising his voice to its highest pitch, and at shrieking in a terrific manner. Then he scattered flour on all sides, and sang a snatch of a song, to which some one in the crowd sang out laughable reply. He then let himself slide down the rope, exchanging jokes thrice with the crowd on his way down, and finishing with a shriek.
Das, Sarat Chandra
Journey to Lhasa and Central Tibet
First Published 1902; reprint New Delhi 1970 edited by W.W. Rockhill