Mustang, also known as the last forbidden kingdom of Nepal, is slowly blooming as one of the most famous tourist destinations in Nepal. With easy routes and accommodations and a chance to experience nature, culture and lifestyle within a short period of time, trek to Mustang is common among the locals as well as foreign tourists. Mustang with its colorful rock formations, caves, monasteries and desert like feel has a unique essence of its own. One other such attraction of Mustang that attracts numerous tourists every year is the Tiji festival.
After Mustang was opened to foreigners in 1992 by the Nepalese government, Tiji festival was also introduced to the world. The festival is a 3 day long ritual that is believed to chase away the demons. The festival is another example of the victory of good over evil and occurs during the end of dry season so as to welcome the monsoon season in the dry, arid land to bring water, the most important resource in Mustang. The myth of the festival tells the story of the deity Dorje Jono, who had to battle and defeat his demon father to save the kingdom of Mustang from destruction as the demon father was creating a water shortage in the dry desert land of Mustang. After Dorje Jono defeated and banished the demon, monsoon began in the parched land providing its people relief from their problems.
The area of Lo Manthang has always been influenced by various Tibetan cultures and customs. One of those is the tradition of Phurba in which deity of Dorje Shunu (believed to banish all obstacles and evil) is invoked and has been practiced in the area since the time of Lama Lowo Khenchen, son of Lo’s second King Amgon Shangpo. Lowo was greatly inspired by the visit of the great Shakyapa master Ngorchen Kunga Shangpo who was invited by the first ruler of Lo Manthang. During the period of Lowo Khenchen, Mustang saw a lot of prosperity in terms of agricultural produce, economic growth, religious and spiritual awakenings which led to the building of numerous stupas, monasteries, dzongs and chapels. Tiji festival was one of the traditions believed to have been started during this time when the Buddhist religion was widespread and even followed by the royals.
Another event that adds to the history of the festival was during the reign of the 15th king of Mustang, Ahang Jamba Dadul, when Lo was going through turmoil with economic downfall and the inability of the Queen to bear an heir to the throne. So, a great master from Tibet, Ngachen Ngawang Kunga Sonam, was invited to end all these evils and he performed a dance during the festival of Tiji which is believed to have driven out all the evil from the region. The residents believe that a mound outside the city still has an arrow hidden which was used to drive out the demons. The place still exists and is called “Sa Kawo” or White Land. This event increased the popularity of the festival even more among the locals.
The dance was performed by the monks of Choede monastery and is still done to this date on the month of May and is joined in by the royal family as well as the villagers of the province. The actual name of the dance is Tenpa Chirim which translates to the benefits of Buddha’s teachings, also known as Tiji or Tenchi in the Mustangi (Lobo) dialect. Various poses and postures of sadhana (meditation) are performed in the dance. The dance is divided into 3 parts: preliminary with 15 steps, main practice (with the generation of celestial palace and generation of deities) and the conclusion with steps to clear away the negative views and welcoming auspiciousness in the country. It is believed that performing the various steps with faith and respect would erase all evil and bring prosperity to all lives.
With the political insurgencies in Nepal, the festival was cancelled everywhere but still celebrated in Choede Gompa, the main monastery of Lo Manthang. The festival was again revived and celebrated all over Lo Manthang after a layman had a vision that not celebrating the festival would bring poverty, suffering and death everywhere. So, the present kind of Lo Manthang Jigme Dadul Palbar Bista along with other Lama teachers and high officials met and discussed about the matter and restored the culture. So, the festival is still celebrated with great fervor and dedication despite various political and economic problems time and again. It is performed in front of the palace within the city walls where all the people are dressed up in their traditional attires and enjoy the tradition with happiness, harmony and excitement.