The Sherpas

The name comes from a group of people known as Sherpas who inhabit the high altitudes of the Himalayan region along the borders of Tibet and Nepal. Approximately 500 years ago Sherpas are migrated from eastern Tibet to Nepal. According to record of Ministry of Health and Population 36,000 Sherpa of east and northern Nepal are Buddhists.

In Tibetan language shyar means East and pa is a suffix meaning ‘people’ hence the word shyarpa or Sherpa. In recent years many Sherpas have migrated to India and other parts of world. Most Sherpas live in the eastern regions of Nepal Solu, Khumbu or Pharak. However, some live farther west in the Rolwaling valley and in the Helambu region north of Kathmandu. Pangboche is the Sherpas’ oldest village in Nepal, and is estimated to have been built over 300 years ago.

Sherpas speak their own Sherpa language which in many ways resembles a dialect of Tibetan. The Jirels, native people of Jiri, are ethnically related to the Sherpas. It is said that the Jirels are descendants of a Sherpa mother and Sunuwar father. In India, Sherpas also inhabit the towns of Darjeeling and Kalimpong and the Indian state of Sikkim

Observing a faith of non-violence, they do not slaughter animals. Agriculture, trade, yaks farming, and sheep rearing are their main sources of livelihood. The Sherpas are famous as skilled guides and are well known for their endurance and talent in surviving and navigating through the difficult Himalayan terrain.

As heroic achievements are associated with dates 29 May 1953 is the day Sir Edmund Hillary and the late Mr. Tenzing Norgay Sherpa scaled Mt.Everest for the first time. Over the years, they have been crucial to the success of virtually every ascent of Mt. Everest. Continuing in the Sherpas tradition. Sherpas are neither orthodox nor exclusive; they are very hospitable and welcome guests into their kitchens and places of worship.

Recently two Sherpas Pemba Dorjie and Lhakpa Gelu have competed as to who can climb Everest quicker.

On May 23rd 2003 Pemba Dorji summitted in 12 hours and 46 minutes.

On May 26th 2003 Lhakpa Gelu beat his record by two hours, summitting in 10 hours 46 minutes.

On May 21st 2004 Pemba Dorjie again improved the record by more than two hours with a total time of 8 hours and 10 minutes.

Losher (New Year)
The New Year is called ‘Losher’ in Sherpa.

Sherpa New Year is known as “Gyalbu-Loshar” and this is similar to the New Year observed in many Northern and Southern Asian countries like Japan, Tibet, Mongolia, and China etc.nEach of these countries has their own ways of celebrating the New Year.

Some places in Tibet, in the 1st of 11th month children playfully celebrate the New Year. This is called “Tola-Loshar”. Some people celebrate the New Year on the 1st of 12th month, which is called “Sonam-Loshar” (Peasant’s new year).

Gyalbu Losher is in the time of farming and at some places it does no coincide. So they are not like the Gyalwu Losher and not generally prevalent in the Sherpa Community. In Losher, The children and grand children offer scarf to the parents and parents in return give presents to the children, the neighbors go to each other’s house to share the warmth of the New Year and is celebrated with prayers flags and happiness by all.

Dumchi and Manirimdu
Dumchi and Manirimdu are two important festivals observed by the Sherpa community. On these festivals tantric dances, initiations, and Nensegphangsum i.e. trampling, burning and throwing (the practice which involves dispelling of evil spirits) are performed.

These two festivals have strong religious significance. They involve huge expense and need to be sponsored by a family or group involving 3-4 families. The person or the families organizing this festival have to provide meals to the entire audience, and thus it can be expensive. In the upper region of the Sherpa villages a group of eight families sponsor the festivals together, the responsibility of making arrangements for Dumchi festival is generally decided by a drawing of a lot and the festival lasts for 4-5 days. In same places, people make voluntary contributions. Not every Sherpa community can afford to organize this festival. Today, only 25 monasteries celebrate either of the two festivals. They are celebrated at the same time in every monastery.
History reveals that Dumchi was once celebrated at Tagshintok, Dongda, Namdingma, Sete and Shartungnga monasteries. With the passage of time it was discontinued. The celebration of Dumchi festival began in Kyilhor Dingma in 1971 and in Samten-Chholing monastery in 1988.

At Panchthar Akhezong monastery and Techermo monasteries, this festival was started only recently. However, beginning from 1992, the tantric dance of Guru Tsengyae (the eight different aspects of Guru Padmasambhava) is performed annually.

In India, Dumchi is celebrated at Zangdokpalri monastery in Kalimpong in the district of Darjeeling. The festival originated in the 16th century. It involves dispelling all obstacles and misfortunes in the life of all sentient beings, human beings in particular. Its primary objective is to subdue all the evil spirits that harm sentient beings and that impede the spread of Dharma.

Manirimdu is similar to Dumchi in that it also involves ritual activities and tantric dances. However, in Manirimdu, Avalokiteshowr appears in neither a wrathful nor peaceful aspect and so the offering of sacramental cake (Torma) is not required.

The devotees recite the six syllable mantra of Chenrezing-The Buddha of Compassion)”Om, Mani Padme Hung” for several days placing Mani pills in front of the shrine. Thus this festival is named as Manirimdu (“Rim” means pills, where as “Du” means to accomplish).

Manirimdu first spread among Sherpa communities at the beginning of the 20th century. Today some of the Sherpa monasteries, celebrating Manirimdu are the Thame monastery, Tangboche monastery, Chiwang monastery, Jyalsa monastery and Kyilkhor Dingma monastery.

Generally both Manirimdu and Dumchi are not demonstration of Dharma, but is practice of the highest Tantric Yoga, which involves direct dealing with Lama (Spiritual Guru), Yidam (personal meditation deity), khadro (Dakini of female celestial bodies who protect those practicing Dharma), and Chokyong Sungma (the Dharma protectors). Through this Tantric Yoga practice one can accomplish the dual Accumulations (accumulation of merit and accumulation of insights). With the achievement of these two accumulations one attains Buddha-hood and eliminates the two obstructions (the delusive obstruction to liberation and the obstruction to omniscience).

The monks congregate together twice a day for meditation and prayer. In addition to this they are also often requested to prayers on behalf of people who are sick or have died. Also there are certain times when, according to the Tibetan lunar calendar, special retreats or ceremonies will be performed over many days.

In Tengboche the Mani Rimdu is performed in the 9th Tibetan month which usually falls in late October. It is also performed in Thame in the 4th month and in Chiwong in the 10th Tibetan month. The prayers will be said over many days but for the villages the most important part is when they receive the blessings from Rinpoche, and when the monks perform the masked Dance. After this the whole village gets together and dances until late in to the night at Tengboche. These colorful and festive celebrations are the culmination of ten days of prayers on the Buddha of compassion, Chenrezig. They are done for the benefit of all beings.

The Mani Rimdu in Tengboche is performed according to the tradition of Mindroling and came from Rongbuk Monastery north of Tengboche in Tibet. The name comes from “Mani” part of the chant of Chenrezig, and “Rilbu” which are the small red pills, which are blessed throughout the ceremony and distributed to everyone at the end. At the beginning a beautiful and intricate mandala or sacred diagram is drawn in fine colored sand. The sand is collected from a special place high in the mountains. It takes four days to complete the mandala then it is covered and used as a focus for the next ten days meditation.

At the end of the ceremonies the monks perform the sacred mask dances known as “Cham” There are sixteen dances with some comic interludes that delight the crowds. These dances are a recreation of the establishment of Buddhism in the Himalayas by the legendary Padmasambhava, known as Guru Rinpoche. The dances convey Buddhist teachings on many levels from the simplest truth to the most profound realization. Throughout the dances, symbolic demons are conquered, dispelled or subdued. The symbolism can be interpreted on many levels; the inner “demons” of hatred, greed and ignorance overcome through meditation on compassion and wisdom. On the last day when most people have gone home a fire ceremony will performed by the monks to allay all the harm in the world. Afterwards the sand mandala is symbolically dismantled and the merit dedicated to the benefit of all sentient beings.