Tiji, the three-day masked dance festival, is based on the myth of Dorje Shunu, a deity who is reborn to defeat the demons responsible for suffering on earth. Tiji – from Tenpa Chirim – means “the hope that the Buddha Dharma will prevail in all the places and among all the people of the world” and has been celebrated in the Kingdom of Lo (Mustang, Nepal) since the 15th century.

Because Tiji is an expression of Buddhist faith, each year a senior monk is selected to be the tsowo, an embodiment of the heroic deity, and lead the community through the colorful ceremonies that also represent the strength and hope of the Loba people.

Not too long ago, the observance of Tiji was lapsing; the important gompas were crumbling from neglect and the monastic schools were tiny and struggling. The restoration of the gompas and the revival of the monastic schools has led to a resurgent role for Buddhism in Loba life and Tiji is once again the most anticipated cultural and religious event of the year.

This year, all paths to Lo Montang were filled with horses and people as everyone rushed to get in place for the big party that takes over the town square, and pretty much the whole town. On the first and second days of the festival, the tsowo, in elaborate costume, is joined by other costumed monks in a series of increasingly active religious dances that consecrate the area and set the tone for the festival’s finale. On the third day, after a public appeal to the gods for aid, the tsowo defeats a straw effigy that represents evil by plunging a dagger into its chest.

A raucous procession of all in attendance, led by the masked dancers and royal family, then pours outside the city walls where the village elders fire many muskets to chase off the last of the retreating demons. A parting shot with the royal musket from the roof of the palace seals the deal. Protection from evil is secured for another year and the afterparty begins in earnest: dancing, drinking, and celebrating until dawn.

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