Apr 24, 2015

The sacred pilgrimage of adventure: Shishapangma puja ceremony…

 An integral part of any Himalayan expedition is the highly auspicious ‘Puja Ceremony’, a ceremony of gratitude and religious ritual during which homage is paid to the mountain deity. 

The ceremony is traditionally conducted by a trained Llama or Sherpa who reads from a book of sacred prayers while sitting in front of a stone altar covered by a smorgasboard of offerings - cookies, sweets, chocolate bars, popcorn, rice and beer and whiskey. During the ceremony all climbers and equipment are blessed – absolutely essential before beginning the ascent of the mountain. Marking the end of the formal ceremony, ‘tsampa’ (a roasted barley flour) is thrown into the air and rubbed on the faces of team-mates and everyone is given a silk scarf as a symbol of being blessed.

Our puja on Shishapangma was conducted by one of the more senior, equally weather-beaten yak herders, who'd been trained as a llama at a local monastery near Nylam.  The ceremony lasted about an hour and a half and, at its climax, the llama began to pray louder and louder as his well worn fingers followed the cyrillic liturgy  scrawled in the prayer book laid out on the rocky ground before his knees. He sat cross legged in front of the stone "stupa" (a sort of stone alter) which was surrounded by out offerings flour, cakes, precious oils, cut up Bounty bars, Mars bars, Snickers bars… as well as an assortment of beverages including the finest whiskey as a sacrifice to the Mountain gods.

The yak herder / llama's intonation increased to an even higher, louder decibel and we all stood up as he threw his arms in the air releasing handfuls of tsampa flour, creating a halo of yellow dust high into the sky. The Sherpas, fully prepared for the move, eagerly followed his lead and for one brief moment the ceremony seemed suspended in time - a halo of flour superimposed over the omnipresent plume of spindrift from the summit Shishapangma.

Sat here and looking out from my tent, the whole expedition now seems even more 'real'. 5 long-streams of prayer flags in the colors of red, green white, blue and yellow radiate to our tents from the giant rock in the centre of the camp.

It felt "humbling" to be a part of a ceremony and belief system which is so clearly an integral part of the Sherpa tradition. As I look out at the panorama from my tent - the rock with its realms of multi-colored prayer flags flapping in the breeze against the clear blue sky and in the shadow of the mountain herself, I can not help but feel part of her spell, her magic, her power.


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