Preparing the Palace: Transforming the Monlam Pavilion for the Tsechu
January 5, 2014
Soon after the empowerment for the Embodiment of the Three Jewels concludes, preparations begin for the Tsechu, or Tenth Day practice, dedicated to Guru Rinpoche on this day of the lunar month.
The Gyalwang Karmapa is back on the stage, this time as the director of operations, overseeing the display of an immense thirty-foot, applique thangka of Guru Rinpoche. Holding a vajra and skull cup, Guru Rinpoche is surrounded by Yeshe Tsogyal, Mandarava, and the Guru's eight manifestations, all of which figure in both the practice text of the Tsechu and the lama dancing which will be performed on the final day of the Tsechu, the tenth of the month.
At the base of the thangka are the protectors Shingkyong and Maning, who are part of the practice as well.
On loan from Situ Rinpoche, the brilliant presence of the thangka fills the entire space: the sheen of the material is radiant and the images vivid; each subtly outlined by a single strand of horsehair wrapped in silk, they seem to float in the air as the thangka reaches up to the lofty ceiling of the stage. The arch in front is draped with long, graceful swags in white, yellow, red, green, and blue, tied to the side like rainbow curtains, their colors the same as the katas attached to the offerings for a lama's long life.
Turing around now to look at the main hall of the Pavilion that extends away from the stage, you can see monks preparing to hang two long rows of smaller, eight-foot thangkas that will run along either side of the main aisle. These stitched images depict the Golden Rosary of the Kagyu, an unbroken lineage of realized masters, beginning with the India mahasiddha Tilopa and descending through the Karmapas, their disciples, and teachers down to the 16th Karmapa who passed away in the United States in 1981. These two rows of bright thangkas are punctuated at the end by the cream white, giant circles of two drums, set in brown and gold-leafed frames.
Completing the transformation are two long scrolls hung along the far walls on the right and left. They depict the miracles performed by the 5th Karmapa, Dezhin Shekpa, during the time he spent in China at the invitation of the emperor. These images show amazing displays of light coming from the Karmapa's residence and from the temple where the ceremonies were performed: golden light gushes from the buildings, rainbows arch above, clouds turn multicolored while Arhats nestle inside. Cranes fly through rays of light and flowers fall in a great shower. One could almost imagine that one day from this perfectly adorned Pavilion, rainbow lights might once more radiate through the sky, arcing toward the Mahabodhi stupa, its golden spire glistening in the distance.