Pokhara, a cloudy, windy morning.
A small bus picks up our group for an excursion to the Tarshi Palkhiel Tibetan Refugee village north of town in the foot hills of the mountains.
Bhola introduces us to Sarah Siefert, who since years works with the Tibetan population in the village and specially with their Paus, their shamans. Over many years of work she had gained the trust of the people and then taught herself the art of documentary filming for the specific purpose to preserve the work and the knowledge of the Tibetan shamans of the camp for future generations.
Today we are visiting the home and family of the very last of the Tibetan shamans, Nyima Dhondup, who sadly died 3 weeks previously. Originally it was planned, to visit him and learn from him. Now we are mourning a great loss. Nyima, in his early 70’s, was the last of the shamans of the village, that now is left without a healer.
Nyima with his Melong and bell, courtesy of Sacred Hoop Magazine
The death rituals for such an important person continue for 49 days with the constant burning of butter lamps, readings from the Tibetan Book of the Dead and never ending streams of visitors that pay their respects to the family and have to be served with Tea and sweets.
On our way through the crowded streets of Pokhara we had stopped at a butter “factory” and Bhola had picked up 3 large ( ??10 lb?) cube-like blocks of butter, that will keep the butter lamps going for a day each. We also brought food sugar and tea……
Soon we leave Pokhara behind and the road steepens and winds upward past countless vehicle repair shops , lumber and metal work yards then fields and terraces,until we reach the camp. In the beginning rain we walk along chest high stone walls enclosing individual compounds. Sarah is well known and greeted by whoever works in one of the court yards or garden plots along our way. We share the path with Dogs and Cows.
At Nyima’s compound we are confronted with a customary but also heart wrenching outbursts of grief. His wife Tashiis crying and lamenting loudly, rocking forth and back in agony and is comforted by her ~ 16 year old daughter Dokar and soon also by Sarah and Bhola, who share in the crying and lamenting. Tsedup, Nyima’s brother and – now ex- interpreter is inviting us into the treatment room and we are asked to sit on the benches along the 3 walls. I “sense” a place across the door as “where Nyima always was sitting” and try to avoid it – toooooo Powerful Energy is there, sucking at me like a blue furnance, in which I see a dog-like animal swirrrrrling…..( Being wolf Clan from my Ada’s side, I wonder, iffff my choice is right or wrong, but I rather err on the side of RESPECT.)
Cowering down on the comfortable bench next to Peter I also cautiously turn around my Toli, that I am wearing beneath my cloth and decide to keep my rain jacket on. Icy wind now is falling down from the peaks behind the house, tearing at the window and chilling all of us. But in traditional hospitality we are served hot tea and sweets and after Sarah and Bhola again profess their grief over the loss of their friend, they along with Dokar begin to tell us about Nyima as a person with a sometimes child-like disposition, and his work, that she was privileged to film. She also explains, that as far as Nyima’s people are concerned, the shamanic gift is only passed down in families,always jumping one generation, from grandfather to grandson, uncle to nephew, so all eyes are now on Dokar’s youngest brother, age 12, who right now sits at the door with his smart phone and shakes his head, laughing – “No, not me!” so far…..
They also describe the massive Altar in the dais right across the door, that was erected by the lamas and the family to honour Nyima and to help his Soul through the dangerous journey from death to reincarnation. – Many layers of “torma” made from flour mixed with water, many flowers…. (Again and again Dokar’s mom bursts out in tears and gently is comforted.)
The Altar was supposed to be destroyed already yesterday, but since the lamas and the family knew of out visit, they left it up for us to see and ad our prayers – later to be released in aid of Nyima’s journey.
Outside, as if all the heavens are mourning for Nyima, a horrrrrendous rain, hail and wind storm is breaking loose. The torrential downpour and icy winds force themselves through the open window. It can not be closed, because streamers and prayer flags connect it with the shed outside, where relatives are keeping the butter lamps burning day and night for the prescribed 49 days.
When the rain lets up a bit, we are asked to go out and also in a prayerful manner light a butter lamp for Nyima.
Next, back in the ritual room, after more butter tea, Dokar is bringing in Nyima’s ritual objects.
To my absolute astonishment she passes them around the room!
While I am “drowning” in the view of – yet again that strange scruffy Dog, Dokar holds up Nyima’s Melong, his largest ritual mirror. It quickly passes from Sarah to Bhola, then to 3 members of our group, then from Peter to me. As I just touch it, it is “blue-hot” and, shaking, I almost crumble over it, somehow realizing, that it touches my Toli beneath my shirt and the Power whushes me into a bottomless hole occupied by – a bluish black Yak-like being with large horns, sharp teeth, hundreds of arms and legs holding all kinds of “stuff” this Being is dancing right on top of another being beneath him/ her…..Now many of the countless arms are reaching out towards me, while “Medicine Tools” of all kind float in the vortex……
-” Oh NOOOOO, not me”!!!!! is all I am trying to think through the fog.
I am shaking. I am not “for this” I am just here to learn something….
The Melong is heavy and HOT and an aeon of time later I realize Bhola’s gaze on me and pass it on…. I hear a drum, a rapid beat…… and yes, there is Nyma’s drum being passed around, although, we apparently were instructed, not to play it and nobody did…..
As I hold it up, I feel streams of “LightPower” streaming from its sweaty streamers into that “vortex-hole” with the snarling horned Spirit in the middle.
Then around comes Nyma’s bell, now silent and yearning to be played again. Then more melongs, holding the strange energy of yet another Spirit, an Elder with turquoise stones in his white hair, sitting in a “arched rock” high up on a windy plateau and a white Horse, that I only see from the back…..
— Then Peter hands me a HUUUUUGE dead Butterfly.
It smells musty – and – like Nyima!
Here he is, his human side, his suffering, the tirelessness of the shamanic act, the tiredness of his old body, his passion spend in millions of droplets of sweat, soaked into the Butterfly and now – released to transform – yet again into a new form and shape.
Confused I wake up and realize, I am holding Nyima’s headdress, the triple crown with the Butterfly wings limp, sweaty and stained with decades of effort directed towards each and every one of his patients…..
As tears of embodied exhaustion flow from my eyes, I pass the “Butterfly” along to the next person.
I am “spent” confused, exhausted, not really there…
…. toooo wide open, seeing yet again that strange Spirit and through all the haze I hear Sarah talking – ?
??about something….. ????
– Her project, her interviews with different shamans, filming… I can not concentrate…..
I KNOW, I should try to pay attention….. I can not.
Not as long as the multi-handed horned Spirit is there, suspended in the middle of the room.
I think, what was next, is, that we were ready to go, but the lama arrives, to read the passages from the Book of the Dead ascribed for this day. We all have to move, to make room for him on the bench that Nyima occupied while alive. So I come to sit directly across from the lama. He opens his small red book and in a melodic voice reads the block printed text from the individual pages.
His voice again makes me first rock slowly forth and back, then drift like on a cloud…..
….There are all the Spirits!
There, through the open window I can see Nyima!
It is sunny and warm outside, not at all the kind of hell storm weather we had that day….
Nyima is sitting in the grass, next to a Dog, obviously his companion, and, since partly translucent, probably long departed and now united with his human friend again. There also was ? A Goat and a Yak – or rather Yak-Spirit Being.
Nyima is happy, laughing…….sitting in the green grass with the Animals. He was dressed in regular cloth, shirt and pants, no regalia. The mountains in the background are huuuuge, all snowcapped and glistening in the sun.
….The lama has stopped speaking and the group is stirring, someone touches me and I shake like a leave….. Peter quickly grabs me and holds me tight……
We were to leave a financial offering for the family, that now had lost their main bread winner. Peter takes care of that….
We were to go outside for a picture…..
While that took place, Dokar’s mom brought forth all kinds of things she hoped we would buy from her….
…..to be continued…….
Sacred Hoop Magazine issue 79 with pictures and infos about Nyima and much more: