Tibetans welcome mountain spirits in faith ceremony

Tue Aug 25, 2009 8:13am EDT
 
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By Christina Hu and Lucy Hornby

REBKONG, China (Reuters Life!) - Every summer the green hills of Rebkong are home to unique celebrations during which local Tibetans believe the mountain gods visit villagers -- and each other -- through human mediums.

Rebkong, known in Chinese as Tongren in Qinghai province, has dozens of monasteries that practice Tibetan Buddhism, in which monks and nuns strive for enlightenment.

But the region's traditions also stem from the animist Bon religion that Tibetans practiced before Buddhism was introduced.

During the festival of Lurol, which falls during the sixth lunar month, worshipping villagers believe the spirits descend from the mountains and enter the bodies of mediums who have inherited the role from their fathers.

Dressed in special clothes, his long hair carefully cut and braided, Damtsengbon waits for his spirit, Amyesrmachen, the most sacred mountain god in the region. Other villagers call the spirit's name while Damtsengbon, who like many Tibetans only goes by one name, enters a trance, twitching and jerking.

"I am the third generation to channel this god, so it is not just about me. For three generations the god has manifested himself through us, and even living Buddhas recognize this," Damtsengbon told Reuters. A "living Buddha" is a Tibetan monk who is considered to be an exemplary holy figure.

"I think it's a way for me to serve my people. It keeps us together and protects us, so it's an honor to serve them.

What may seem unfathomable to Westerners, even those versed in Tibetan Buddhism, is central to the folk religion practiced by many Tibetans in traditional communities.   Continued...

 
<p>Manbengya, a 47-year-old Tibetan man who serves as medium for the warrior mountain god Amyesyullha, rests after Amyesyullha left his body at the temple in Rebkong, Qinghai province, August 11, 2009. Every summer the green hills of Rebkong are home to unique celebrations during which local Tibetans believe the mountain gods visit villagers - and each other - through human mediums. Picture taken August 11, 2009. REUTERS/Christina Hu</p>