Everything that ain't India

MONKS & MONASTERIES

Pix from SWEET SIKKIM

Dancing practice at the Lindum Monastery. 

Young monks stood in a huge circle around the quadrangle, both arms held in the air, holding their cloaks, swaying alarmingly. One monklet sat on the side with a large drum in front of him. He’d bash out a beat on that as the monks circled and swooped; solitary ballroom dancers who’d lost their partner, leisurely floating round and round – drunken bats circling slowly in the late morning sun.

In the centre was a monk of considerable height. He was a giant monk, a monk and a half. I bet he had big feet. I’d seen him before, sitting hunched over some papers with two associates. He was the chopen, the ritual master. He was quite an important fellow.

Unlike his woeful students, Big Foot was a monk of consequence. He was in it for the long run. After basic training, each monk embarks on intensive study in all aspects of the tantric rites conducted at the monastery. Several years are spent learning each ritual skill; shrine keeping, chanting, torma making, the playing of musical instruments, construction of sand mandalas – the full box and Buddhist dice. Then they go on to specialize in one of them – a further period of study that spans the several more thousand years necessary to master the intricacies of their future positions. Big Foot had done his Monk Master’s Degree in sacred dance. He was obviously very, very old.

At the end of the year, the monks perform a week-long Mahakala puja, along with ritual dances in the courtyard for two days before the eve of Losar, the Tibetan New Year. In our calendar this falls in February or March. It was late November. The chopen had the unenviable task of trying to corral sixty unwilling monklets into a dance routine in preparation for this big event.

They were hopeless, hot and bored out of their brain. Big Foot was having a terrible time.

excerpt from SWEET SIKKIM

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