Solu Kumbhu, Nepal
June 17th, 2000
I woke to the sounds of cymbals and drums and the sight of the prayer flags fluttering in the breeze atop Tengpoche Gompa. The morning promised a beautiful day. It was 5:30 in the morning and Passang Thongdu, his wife Nishir and I were sitting in their kitchen over cups of tea and coffee. Out of the window we could see Thamserku. In a few minutes I headed over to the Gompa, for the morning prayers.
The outer gate led inside to a raised courtyard surrounding the inner building. Across the courtyard, through the curtained doorway was the prayer hall. The room had a raised platform with a statue of Buddha seated in a teaching mudra. Khatas were laid out over his hand.
Behind the statue was detailed artwork on the wall. The artwork continued on all the walls and the ceiling. Every single square inch had been painted in rich detail – bold vibrant colours of red, yellow, maroon, blue and green and gold. Gold painted figures on the murals, gold threaded embroidery on the thankas, golden flames of the butter lamps. Scenes depicting Buddha’s life blended with the paintings of the Bodhisatvas. Everywhere one looked there was colour and beauty. The smell of incense hung in the air.
Directly in front of the platform was another platform with more khatas laid as offerings. In front of that were rows of mats on the floor. The High Lama sat at the center and the other rows were perpendicular to his, on either side of the room, facing each other. The monks were already seated, all of them dressed in the yellow and maroon of the Gelugpa sect. I took off my sandals, went in and sat down at the end of the last row amid much giggling of my neighbours. My neighbours were six young disciples all between the ages of five to eight. They would participate in the prayers albeit with furtive nudging and whispering. I found myself laughing at their antics. They were like children anywhere else. Another young disciple, aged eleven or twelve kept watch at the door. He would run to fill the cups in front of the monks in between prayers.
The prayers were chanted, sometimes by one, sometimes more than one monk. In between chants there would be pauses. Cups would be re-filled and a new chant started. The big gongs heralded the end of a sutra and the beginning of another. Cymbals, horns and the chiming of bells blended in perfect harmony. I closed my eyes and gave myself up to the prayers. They hummed and ebbed and flowed around me, and in me.
Mudra: Refers to the position of hands and feet on a statue. The different positions are each associated with specific meaning.
Thanka: An embroidered wall hanging typically depicting a Bodhisatva
Khata: A silk scarf usually draped around one’s neck is a traditional offering for anyone leaving on a journey
Bodhisatvas: Those who have achieved nirvana but choose to be reborn so that they may help other living beings.
Sutra: A verse or section of a mantra