July 2nd, 2013… We are at Darchen…
Had it been a clear sky, we would have had a wonderful view of Mt Kailash… Like the picture below (Source: wikipedia link here)
With just our backpack, we board a bus… The bus will take us to the start point of the walking, some eight kms or so from Darchen (marked as D in the map in the previous blog post)… This is the site of Tarboche (or Darboche) flag post…
This (blog) post is about that (flag) post…
On the full moon of the fourth month of the Tibetan calendar, a flag post is erected here at Tarboche, the base of Mt Kailash, which marks a great festival… Pilgrims from all over Tibet and elsewhere come here for this ceremony… The ceremony also marks the traditional opening of the kora around Kailas.
The Tibetan calendar is a cousin of the Indian lunar calendar. The new year in the Tibetan calendar is called Losar, and is one of the most important days in their culture. As best as I can make out, the Losar commences on the new moon day of the lunar month on which the spring solstice falls. Spring solstice is that day of the year when the Sun crosses over the equator from South to North. The Northern journey of the Sun, commences in the Winter Solstice (of the northern hemisphere) sometime in end of December… This is known as the Uttarayana in Indian astronomy… At that point in time the Sun is in the Southern hemisphere. And then, in its northern journey, the Sun crosses over the equator, onto the Northern hemisphere on the spring solstice day. That marks dawn in North pole – the start of the long North pole daytime… . The lunar month on which this occurs is observed as the new year in Tibetan calendar.
Now, the fourth month of this calendar, heralds a very important festival. On the full moon day of the fourth month, Tibetans celebrate the festival of ‘Saga Dawa’ (literally, the ‘fourth month’). In their tradition, Saga Dawa is ‘Vesak’ – or the holy day of the triple events of Buddha – his birth, enlightenment, and release (Nirvana)… This date may or may not coincide with the Vesak (Buddha Purnima) date of the Indian lunar calendar… May be the same or a month this way or that… But the event celebrated is the same – that of Buddha Purnima…
On this day, in Mt Kailash, a great celebration takes place… A flag post, around 80 feet or so in height, is raised up with great ritual fanfare. Pilgrims from far and wide come here to participate in this event… The flagpole from the previous year would have been brought down earlier, and raised again on the saga dawa (purnima) day…
A Lama from the nearby monastery is in charge of the ritual procedure… A great number of devotees gather here, and circumambulate the flag pole, as it lies on the ground. Hundreds of prayer flags that were attached to the flag pole the previous year are removed, and new prayer flags attached… The pilgrims also throw ‘windhorses’ up in the air… These are colored paper flags with Buddhist mantra written on them…
Under the supervision of the official Lama, the pole is slowly raised, using ropes and fixtures. An “A” structure is moved below the inclined pole to keep it at that angle… Then the folks take some rest, and then the start again, raising the pole higher, and push another “A” structure to hold it up at a higher angle. All the while, there is a great festive atmosphere, traditional musical instruments are played, the child in one and all emerges, and there is a lot of happy hooting and cheer…. In the final tug, steel cables are attached to the pole, and are pulled by two trucks…. Pilgrims hold on and to pull other ropes so as to ensure that the pole does not slant in any direction… Under the guidance of the Lama, accompanied the joyous whoops of pilgrims, the great flag pole finally is made to stand erect….
Check out photographs below, of the Saga Dawa pole raising festival, taken from the Net ( Click here for source gallery ) .
Click on first picture and use arrow keys to browse, ESC to return…
If the flag pole stands bolt upright, then that is said to be a good omen for Tibet… Good prosperity that year…. But if the pole stands tilting in any direction (either towards or away from Kailas), then that is said to be a bad omen. All will not be well for Tibet that year… That is the belief…
After the flag is upright, the pilgrims go around the pole in great festive joy. Pilgrims throw windhorses again… And they also throw Barley flour in the air, a tradition known as ‘Dra Lha Sol’… Horsemen join the festivity by thundering around the pole… The season is open… The pilgrims shall now start on the kora around Kailas!
Here is a youtube clip of a saga dawa festival…
The flag pole raising ceremony of Saga Dawa has been celebrated for more than a thousand years.. Soota wonders if this flag-post raising festival is a part of a cultural continuum of the Indian subcontinent where the flag pole of Indra has been raised to launch festivals. This has been a tradition for thousands of years, as can be seen from references in Ramayana, Mahabharata and other ancient epics. The Indra Dhvaja, the flag of Indra, which is hoisted during Indra festival, is mentioned in several places in Ramayana. It is specifically mentioned that the flag is raised during the full moon of the month of Ashvin, and is brought down after the festival. This festival of Indra is seen to have been celebrated all over the Indian subcontinent. The most ancient of Tamil literature mention Indra vizha, which was celebrated during the new year (the month of Chaitra) for 28 days. The festival was commenced by people hoisting the Indra Dhvaja (the flag of Indra). The details of the festival have been given in Manimekalai and Shilappadikaram (two ancient Tamil Sangam classics). ( Click here to read a good blog post about Indra Vizha of ancient Tamil people )
The Indra dhvaj festival is still observed in Puri Jagannath and other temples in eastern India. There is the festival of “Indra Purnima” during full moon of Bhadrapad month, which is preceded by Indra Dhvaj puja a few days earlier.
In Nepal, the Indra Jatra is a spectacular festival. This is also celebrated from Bhadrapada month… The festival is flagged off by hoisting a tall wooden pole (thirty six feet or so, in height), that has been chosen with ritual care from a specific forest every year. This pole is the Indra Dhvaja and is also known as the Linga (siva linga). This is pulled up by the people and is dismantled at the end of the festival.
Another festival called the Bisket Jatra, marks the beginning of the new year (the chaitra month…) and is celebrated in Bhaktapur, the old capital of Nepal. There too the Indra dhvaj (linga) is hoisted up. This festival corresponds in time with the Indra vizha of the ancient Tamil culture. The hoisting of Indra Dhvaj on new year has been a part of Indian tradition for sure.
Do see this youtube video of the Indra flag pole hoisting in Nepal…
Soota conjectures that the Tarboche flag pole hoisting is perhaps a part of the same cultural continuum of Indra Dhvaja hoisting….
Take a look at this picture of a Lama in Saga Dawa festival
Notice the instrument (that seems to be like a paper weight) on the manuscript in front of him. That is Vajra, a symbol of Buddha and a weapon of Indra.
When Sister Nivedita visited Bodh Gaya in 1904, accompanied by Ravindrananth Tagore and JC Bose, she was inspired by the Vajra. With that symbol she designed the first national flag for India… Here it is… The Vajra in the middle, with the words “Vande Mataram” written in Bengali…
Her idea of a flag for India was an Indra Dhvaja….
Here is another interesting data point… The Indra dhvaja hoisting has been an integral part of Indian theater (Natya) tradition. As per Natyashastra, the very first drama in the world was staged on the occasion of Indra Dhvaja Mahotsava, the great festival of the flag of Indra…
Let us move in time, and have a glimpse of Kattaikuttu, one of the folk drama tradition (terukootthu, or street theatre) of Tamil people. Here rural artistes perform all night drama festival depicting scenes from Mahabharata, as handed down in local traditions since ages… One of the important depictions is that of the penance of Arjuna. During the forest exile of the Pandava brothers, Arjuna proceeds to Himalaya to do penance and please Lord Siva, whereby he may acquire celestial weapons from Him. On the way he overcomes temptations meant to divert him from his task, and finally reaches Mt Kailas. He climbs Mt Kailas and does penance. In the folk theatre, Mt Kailas is represented by a long pole, which is called as “Tapas Maram”, or the tree of penance. In the theatre, the artiste acting as Arjuna, climbs this long pole, goes to a platform on top, and enacts doing penance there. It is then that Siva and Parvati, come in the guise of a hunter and his spouse, and a fight ensues between Arjuna and Siva, over a boar. They both shoot it at the same time and fight for the prize. Siva flings Arjuna into the air, and he is caught by Parvati… And then Siva and Parvati shed their disguise and reveal their real ‘presence’ to Arjuna, and bless him with great Pasupata Astra… And btw, Arjuna is Indra’s son…. (More about this drama scene can be seen in this link here )..
So, the wooden pole in Kattaikoottu represents Mt Kailas!
Here is a picture of Arjuna climbing the Tapas tree ( Click here for source )
So, let us come back at the pole of Tarboche… The flag hoisting of Saga Dawa…. The start of the season of Kora. Pilgrims will circumambulate the Pole and then commence on the circumambulation of Mt Kailas…. Saga Dawa in the year 2013 was on May 25th … Soota and co-yatri’s have been dropped off at the Tarboche point by bus to commence the kora… The date is July 2nd, 2013…
Signing off this post, sharing one more youtube video, which has lovely photos of the Saga Dawa festival some years earlier…Enjoy the tour…
Off next, on the kora.. Om Nama Sivaya! Om Mani Padme Hum!
** To be continued **