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Tiji Festival 2025

An Introduction to Tiji Festival Held in Upper Mustang Nepal

Once an independent kingdom, Upper Mustang is a culturally rich place.  Mustang is the home of Tibetan-origin, Lo people thus their capital city is Lomanthang.  Settlement in Lomanthang comprises some 100 families. Earthen walls and roofs support their houses. The settlement is surrounded by about 6-meter-high earthen walls with each four corners having fort-like structures. The earthen wall is a testament to the ancient technique of protecting the city or settlement from enemy forces. The spiritual way of life here is guided by the Tibetan Buddhist faith and culture that are reflected in Buddhist stupas, cave paintings, local homes, and Buddhist monasteries found here.  The historical connection of the Lo kingdom with Buddhism dates as far back as the 8th century when the first seed of Buddhism was sown in the Himalayan region by well-known scholar and accomplished spiritual leader Padmasambhava (Guru Rimpoche).  The first ever Buddhist monastery was built here in Lo kingdom’s Logekar, not far from Lomanthang.  When Tibet was in trouble with China due to the cultural revolution, much of its heritages were destroyed but Mustang being part of Nepal, still bears the history in its original setting.  Some of the researchers and scholars have mentioned Mustang as little Tibet.

The Mustang or Lo kingdom was assimilated into  Nepal in the 18th century as part of then Nepal’s Gorkha Empire campaign.  Long before that, the annual Tiji festival was started in the 16th century under the patronage of the king of Mustang. The unbroken tradition of the unique ceremony of Tiji can still be witnessed in Lomanthang.

According to historian, in Upper Mustang, during the reign of the 8th Mustangi King Samdub Rabten in the middle of 17th century, head of the Shakya sect of Tibetan Buddhist Sect, Shakya Kunga was invited to Lomanthang.  The king in the presence of the great spiritual leader had asked the monks to perform the worship and dance of Tenpa Tserim (meaning worship for the world peace). The grand spiritual event  was also witnessed by the people of different parts of Lo Kingdom with great respect to the king and the religious leader from Tibet.  The event was also popular back in Tibet.  Later on the Tenpa Tserim abbreviated to Ten Chi and finally Tiji. The same event turned as the most important spiritual annual event for the kingdom. The fact that most of the Buddhist monasteries in Upper Mustang belong to the Shakya Buddhist sect also affirms this statement that the Tiji festival is connected with the Shakya tradition.

During the Tiji festival, Dorje Shuno, the epithet of the Buddhist protector deity Vajrakilaya, becomes the vital deity. The performance of Dorje Shuno defeating the elements that cause obstacles to the locals with his power is demonstrated by the lamas as a spiritual dance.  The series of dances and worship that last for three days is accompanied by a prayer to defeat the elements that cause obstacles and urge for peace in the whole world. The style of dance is said to have been introduced by Guru Padmasambhava himself in the 8th century in much more grandeur and the first Buddhist monastery of Tibet in Samya.

On the first day of the festival, the main task is to perform the opening puja, to pray that there will be no obstacles during the festival and that the festival can be completed peacefully.  On the second day, there is a dance related to the battle between Dorje Shuno representing Vajrakilaya, and the Negative spirit, and on the third day, there is a worship and dance that demonstrates the killing of the bad spirit and protection of the locals and living beings around.

Vajrakilaya is said to be a powerful form of Buddhist protector deity Heruka that can remove obstacles as per the Tibetan Buddhist belief system.  Therefore, the Tiji festival is organized to prevent various obstacles in worldly life such as diseases, quarrels, losses due to natural disasters, famine, etc. and to promote harmony, prosperity, and peace in society.

In recent times, the Tiji Festival has been a prime cultural attraction to the tourists visiting this amazing destination.  Three Jewels Adventures has been organizing a trek to Upper Mustang also coincides with this special event Tiji festival.  Based on the local Tibetan calendar, Tiji festival dates for 2025 have been announced. You may find trekking or overland jeep tours to witness Tiji festival 2025 in this link.

Blog Post by Amber Tamang, manager/tour leader at Three Jewels Adventures, (2024, June)

Photograph by Nursang Sherpa, Guide of 2024 Tiji Festival Trek

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