Lighting the world: Marme Monlam
January 1, 2013
A huge garuda flanked by an eagle is set towards the back of the stage with a snow lion and tiger set forward, all on massive wooden plinths. Two gigantic lamps reflect onto the blue stage floor giving the impression of the moon in water. Butter lamps in pink glass lotus bowls flicker inside larger metal containers beside the golden Buddha, with offerings laid in front - dominated by the snowy slopes of Mount Kailash. Two large drums are at the forefront on either side of the stage.
The VIPs include many notable Gaya figures: the Deputy Inspector General of Police, the District Magistrate, Mr Dorjee, Secretary of the Bodh Gaya Management Committee, Nagar Panchayat officials from the local governing body, and Mr Kiran Lama, General Secretary of the International Buddhist Council of Bodh Gaya. Each is presented with a lamp, a tray of fruit, and a book of Sanskrit prayers in multiple translation.
The Karmapa walks in to cheers and applause, sits next to Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Goshir Gyaltsap Rinpoche, as the packed assembly of monastics and laypeople chant the entire Chenresig prayer.
As the performers come onto the stage, the display of costumes in perfect composition with colour co-ordinated splashes is scene painting at its finest. It shows clearly the artistic eye of the Karmapa.
The show starts with a drum performance by 3 women and 3 men, the professional U - theatre from Taiwan. The renowned Taiwanese flute player Garry Wu commences with a plaintive melody and the U-theatre performers use balletic warrior movements to sound the drums. Both the U-theatre and Garry Wu offer dramatic performances later in the evening; Garry Wu receiving applause and cheers from the crowd for his stunning flute solo.
The refuge prayer in Sanskrit is chanted by ten monks from Rumtek wearing saffron robes. A Song of Corsica Island is sung in French by a Corsican lady, Dominique. A Vietnamese group chants “In praise of Buddha” and displays a banner in gold with the inscription Long Life Prayer for His Holiness the 17th Karmapa. They hold pink lotus flowers and sound a rhythmic gong. When a Korean group sings like a choir, the audience claps in rhythm.
A Tibetan song called Drangtshe Yangyen with a flute player and singing by 5 women and 5 men, in turquoise and blue costumes, also receives thunderous applause.
A composition by the 17th Karmapa, The World, has the tone of experimental music sung in French by a group from various European countries.
An entry called Food Offering of 8 Goddesses by Milarepa is a spectacular adornment with girls from Taiwan, China and Hong Kong wearing silk saris and Tibetan dress, forming graceful arm movements in imitation of the thousand armed Chenresig.
In the grand finale the audience holds butter lamps and chants the Marme Monlam Prayer with Karmapa, Gyaltsap Rinpoche and Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, each holding a large lotus lamp.
May the bowl of this lamp become equal to the outer ring of this world realm...
May its light dispel all the darkness of ignorance...
In the light of thousands of candles, the Gyalwang Karmapa stands and gracefully leaves the pavilion, followed by Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Gyaltsap Rinpoche. Thus ends the 30th Kagyu Monlam on the first day of the new year.
The dazzled, delighted audience walks into the darkened night singing Karmapa Chenno.