As lights dimmed inside the Lotus Temple auditorium on Thursday evening, there was a certain ritualistic pattern to what followed. It started with a prayer. Amid hushed silence, 10 maroon-robed figures stood in a neat row with folded hands, and the hall boomed with the deep baritone of Tibetan chants.
This was one of the rare public performances by the monks of Palpung Sherab Ling Monastery — situated in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district — who will perform again today in the Capital as part of the closing ceremony of Delhi International Arts Festival. In fact, this is their second public outing after they received the 46th Grammy Award for Best Traditional World Music Album (Vocal or Instrumental) in 2004.
“We do not usually perform in public,” said Omze Kalsang Yeshi, whose title “omze” denotes his position as the chanting master of the monastery. In broken Hindi and Tibetan, and aided by a translator, he added, “We perform only upon request.” The monastery is the seat of Tibetan leader Ti Situpa XII, and has monks from across the Himalayan belt residing there.
Incidently, Yeshi was one of the 10 monks who rendered their voices for the recording of Sacred Tibetan Chant: The Monks of Sherab Ling Monastery (Naxos World), the album that won them the Grammy. After the win, they performed in public for the first time at Delhi’s Vigyan Bhawan in the same year.
Going back to the Grammy win, Yeshi said with a laugh, “We didn’t even know what a Grammy was. In 1999, a few people from our centre in New Zealand asked for a recording of the chanting that we do on a daily basis. I was there during the recording but we didn’t give it much thought since it’s routine for us. After its release in late 2003, we were told in 2004 that the recording has been nominated for the Grammy.” While none of them went to collect the award, it was accepted by one of their representatives, Tenam Lama, who was present in Los Angeles, on their behalf.
While the performance at Lotus Temple was a small one, the one slated for today is something to look out for. The much anticipated 80-minute performance will boast the award-winning Buddhist chants and dance, considered an offering to their deity, Mahakala. A part of their daily prayer ceremony, which originated centuries ago in the monasteries of Tibet, the Mahakala ceremony — including chants and dance, called Vajra Nrityam — is elaborate in its execution, complete with masks and brocade costumes.
The dancers closely follow the text of Mahakala puja, which finds its origin in Sanskrit texts. Even the costumes are designed according to the description in the text and traditional Tibetan iconography. The Palpung congregation, under which the Palpung Sherab Ling Monastery falls, is a 300-year-old tradition and the original Palpung congregation is based in Tibet.
Interestingly, Sacred Tibetan Chant: The Monks of Sherab Ling Monastery is probably the last recording of their chants. “We haven’t done any more recording after that because our guruji refused. It is puja for us and not meant for commercial purposes,” said Yeshi. They also don’t have plans to take the performance anywhere else for the public.
The performance will be held today, 6 pm, at Purana Qila. Entry is free.