The dances take place on the 2nd day of Mani Rimdu.
This offering of spiritual nectar is made in many ceremonies. The six dancers represent Ngag-pa (Tantric magicians). They make offerings of alcohol from silver chalices, and small tormas, to the Lama, Yidam, Khandro, and Shi-Dak (Earth deities).
A Buddhist practitioner takes ‘refuge’ in the Lama (spiritual guide), Yidam (personal deity) and Khandro (wisdom dakini). A central theme in Tibetan Buddhist practice, is to make offerings to these beings, so that they will help with the virtuous actions that lead to Buddhahood.
The four dancers, Ghing, are servants of Guru Rinpoche, connected with his emanation as Dorje Trollo. They have come from his Pure Land of Sangdok Palri, where they live within his mandala. They herald the imminent arrival of Guru Rinpoche at the Mani Rimdu.
Two of the Ghing are male, and carry cymbals, while the two females carry drums. The male represents skilful means and the females represent wisdom; these two aspects of the path to enlightenment are at the heart of Vajrayana (Tantric) practice. The union of skilful means or compassion, and wisdom is often depicted, and frequently misunderstood, in Tantric iconography.
Preceded by a reverent monk holding burning incense, Guru Rinpoche makes his dramatic appearance in the form of Dorje Trollo (the Adamantine Sagging-Belly). Guru Rinpoche has seven other emanations, six of which are peaceful. Dorje Trollo, is one of the wrathful forms he assumes, to defeat the demons in Tibet. He comes from his home on the Copper Mountain riding a flying tiger, together with the Ghing.
Having paced out his symbolic mandala, Guru Rinpoche is invited to a throne and offerings are made to him, as benefits the ‘Second Buddha’.
In his right hand he carries a dorje, a symbolic diamond or thunderbolt, representing indestructibility, while in his left hand he brandishes a phurba, a symbolic dagger for slaying demons. Having overcome the demons, Guru Rinpoche converts them to Buddhism, and makes them take solemn vows to protect the teachings and all practitioners.
The symbolism can be interpreted on many levels; the inner demons of hatred, greed, and ignorance can be overcome by meditation on compassion and wisdom, and transformed into Enlightenment.
The Drum Dance is performed by six Ngag-Pa to celebrate the attainment of Samadhi (meditative concentration).
A one-actor comic interlude, Mi-Tsering, (Long Life Man) is the children’s favorite. He is a kind, bumbling, gentle old man. He means well and does his best, but inevitably gets everything wrong. He is, however, convinced that he's an expert and tries to instruct others in some of the temple rituals, such as offering khataks (silk scarves), or doing prostrations. His, is a light-hearted comic act, yet it brings a poignant message of encouragement to ordinary people - that sincerity and good intentions count for as much as expertise. It is Mi-Tsering who heads the procession of monks welcoming Trulshig Rinpoche’s arrival at Chiwong, and who heralds him into the courtyard to preside over the dances. He is an acknowledgement of everyman’s good intentions, however humble.
Entrance of the monks and Mi-Tsering with banners and ceremonial instruments, heralding Trulshig Rinpoche’s arrival.
Thur-Dhag, the Dance of Liberation, is the central act of the sacred dance. The two skeleton figures are the Lords of the Universal Cemetery - reminders of the transient nature of human existence. Two Ngag-pas enter and perform a mystical invocation, luring all demons and negative energies, then trap them into a small dough figure. At the same time, Trulshig Rinpoche performs a wrathful fire puja - calling the demons in, with long strokes of a nine-pronged dorje with black pennant. The demons are trapped, and ceremonially burned on a small pyre, as an offering to the gods, who are then asked to liberate the world. With symbolic strokes of his phurba, Rinpoche, out of compassion even for demons, sends them to the realm of wisdom.
The demons of hatred, greed, and ignorance are dead. The Lords of the Cemetery carry the corpse to the Gods of the Mandala. The ashes from the pyre are buried under a flagstone in the courtyard.
Rinpoche invokes the Great Protectors asking them to perform the activities of a Buddha. Mahakala is blue, Ekajati has one eye, Mahadeva (Shiva) is red, and Trudo Lhamao (the Cemetery Deity) is brown. During this dance, Ang Babu and his family make offerings to Rinpoche and to the Sangha.
The two black men are servants of, Shalung Genyen Chenpo, the protector deity of Dza-Rong-Phu monastery, who appears next. Shalung Genyen Chenpo, was originally fierce and a murderer, but is later reformed and becomes a protector of the Dharma.
Five Wisdom Dakinis enter and make offerings of tsog, song, and dance to Trulshig Rinpoche. These Wisdom Dakini's are the active part of the Lama, Yidam, and Khandro. There is further ceremony and procession by the monks, as Trulshig Rinpoche leaves the courtyard.
This second comic interlude, is a kind of spiritual soap opera. A Tantric yogi and his two hopeless disciples attempt to cope with life, death, love, lust, alcohol, and an assortment of other samsaric problems. At the end of the scene, Tok-Den, demonstrates his spiritual prowess by bending a metal sword against his unprotected skin.
A monk takes out a Torma as a compassionate offering to the beings, who like leftovers.
The Knife Dance cuts up and destroys any remaining demons.
This is the Finishing Dance, and concludes Mani Rimdu.