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Mani Rimdu Festival

Mani Rimdu Gathering at Thyangboche
Nov, 1979:  Thyangboche Monastery, in the upper Khumbu Valley of the Himalayas in Nepal, sitting under Ama Dablam. We’d arrived several days earlier for the Mani Rimdu fall dance festival. We were starting our 5th week of trekking. Nowadays many people fly into Namche Bazaar and hike to Thyangboche in a day or two. We had taken about 10 days to hike to Namche from the roadhead at Lamosamu, gaining and losing almost 50,000′ of elevation. Then we spent several weeks climbing a 21,000 foot trekking peak, and exploring isolated valleys. We had timed our trip so that we’d have time to spend several days at the monastery during the fall harvest festival of Mani Rimdu

Mani Rimdu begins at the full moon

Late that night, with the full moon shining, we were aroused from sleep by the long horns. Our sirdar, Ang Kami came to our tent and led us into the monastery to observe the ceremonies. The rites were much like the Solemn High Mass of Catholicism, many celebrants, and ritualized singing and incense offerings. All the monks hold either a thunderbolt dorje or bells

The next day was Tshe-wang [Life Conservation] a public opening ceremony where local farmers brought offerings as thanks for their harvest, and the monks gave blessing for the next year. We could also attend the rehearsals for the upcoming dances. The monks dressed in the most elaborate capes and hats we’d
seen, intricately embroidered with gold. A silver lined skull cup is brought out to distribute tshe-chang [life spirit], and then passed around for everyone to take a drink. Meanwhile, the locals are filling baskets with torma for offerings [and used to feed the audience at the performance]. Each basket is brought forward, with chanting, blessed, then carried out. Finally, preceded by two horns so large they need noviate monks to carry the front of them, the lama returns to the monastery

Just after sunrise, much like the long horn solos of Siegfried, the long Alpen horns rang out again across the mountain valleys calling us to the courtyard. Then 2 monks with the smaller, clarinet type horns climbed to the uppermost cupola and played the final series of calls
Dances at Mani Rimdu

Shortly afterward, the performance began with the Tsam-li-bulu [Dance of Showing]. The musical accompaniment consisted of a variety of horns and cymbals, and often included cymbals and small drums played by the dancers. We sat in the balcony, among an everchanging crowd, mostly of local Nepalese who
had come to the monastery for the festival. As the day proceeded, bamboo trays of fried snacks, cookies [contributed by westerners] and peanuts would be passed around, and the monks brought bowls of yogurt with rice. The crowd overlapped the dance area of the courtyard, and that contributed to the performance. Many of the early dances included high whirling kicks, often over the heads of the spectators. Interspersed among the dances were comic acts, and a fakir who balanced on the tip of a sword.

Lute Jerstad’s book about Mani Rimdu

I had brought a book by one of the First American climbers of Everest, Lute Jerstad, who came back to Nepal as part of his doctorate research. The Nepalis around me noticed the pictures and soon the book was being passed around, everyone naming each of the dancers pictured, The scripted performance ended about sundown and the crowd dispersed for dinner. Then later in the evening many people gathered again in the courtyard for the people’s performance. The locals taught us the simple circle dance. The repetitive steps, monotonous chanting and hot cups of fresh chang created a mystical effect and the perfect ending to a magnificent day.

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China – Ancient Astronomy

In the middle of modern Beijing a medieval astronomy masterwork holds its own. It’s been renamed Beijing Ancient Observatory and is on the southwest side of Jianguomen crossroad in Dongcheng District of Beijing .When I had asked our local guide about it, he said it wasn’t open anymore. Despite his assertion, I wandered the short distance from our hotel and found it both open and quite interesting.

The observatory is located on the roof level of a small building. First built under Kublai Khan a short distance away, the current observatory was completed in 1442 and used by Ming and Qing astronomers. As the Emperor was considered the Son of Heaven, the movements of the heavenly bodies were an important affair. It was taken over by Jesuits in the 1600’s and still has 8 Ming dynasty instruments on the roof – They are, according to the museum “celestial body equipment, equator theodolite, ecliptic theodolite, horizon longitude equipment, quadrant equipment, Simple Phenomena equipment, horizon theodolite ” Most interesting are the dragons and other creatures cast in bronze, that support the various pieces.

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The observatory itself is located on a 15 meter tall brick platform and about 40 x 40 square meters wide, which is actually one of the few remaining pieces of the the old Ming Dynasty city wall. Interesting in itself, it once ran around Beijing. As I entered, a guy motioned me to go up the obvious stairway to the rooftop, while another guy came up and asked if I wanted to see the astronomical instruments. Saying yes, he led me around the back where there were several replica copies (“Made from fiberglass, not original”), and then just happened to come to his shop that sold compasses and seismographs (along with an eclectic selection of jewelry, bronzes and snuff bottles.) Telling him I’d return afterwards, I went back to the stairway where the other guy was still waiting, and now yelled “UP!” in an I-told-you-so manner. Turned out he had his own shop, too, at the top of the stairs.

Instrument Purpose 
Celestial globe determine the time in which the celestial bodies will rise and set; as well as the altitude and azimuth of the bodies at any given time
Armillary sphere measures the coordinates of the celestial bodies. Constructed of two bronze disks— the ecliptic armillary tracks the sun and the equatorial armillary tracks all other bodies
Quadrant measures the altitudes and zenith locations of the celestial bodies
Theodolite measures altitude and azimuth coordinates of celestial bodies
Astronomical sextant measures the angular distance between celestial bodies
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures
Dragons and other mythical creatures

 

 

On the way back to the hotel, I wandered thru small park, watching card players, bicycle repairmen and dominos games. The card game was similar to Uno and rummy, with card & run matching, but never did get all the rules. Tempo and delivery of cards varied from a casual flick to a defiant slap of a run of cards. Never seemed to affect subsequent play, though, and while there seemed to be a winner for each hand, no cumulative score seemed to be kept. Over at the dominos, similar variations in slap technique were observed, and here the loser would step out to let someone else in for the next round.  

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