A Buddhist prayer festival fills a remote Tibetan village with color

By a remote Buddhist nunnery that is home to 500 nuns and 100 monks sits the tiny Tibetan village of Ser Geyrgo. Every year, between the sixth and seventh months of the lunar calendar, nomad tribes gather in the village for a six-week prayer festival meant to invoke heaven.

Nestled in the alpine pastures of the Tibetan Plateau in China’s Sichuan province, the nunnery is part of the southeastern historical Kham region, where nomads cross great swaths of land, living in tents and following their herds of yak.

Devotees practicing Amidism — a branch of Mahayana Buddhism — participate in the festival, which is meant to invoke the Pure Land of Buddhism, or heaven. The festival takes place in a traditional Tibetan tent decorated with flowers that attract birds.

Devotees spend mornings and afternoons meditating by reciting a mantra, the name of Amitabha Buddha, “Na-Mo-A-Mi-Tuo-Fo,” and give offerings to the Buddhas. The offerings, water bowls with flowers and clay shaped in the form of stupas — dome-shaped structures erected as a Buddhist shrine — represent the seven freshwater lakes and the seven rings of golden mountains that surround Mount Meru. The mountain, held sacred, stands at the center of the physical and spiritual universes in the Buddhist cosmology.

The prayer festival is a meeting place for nomadic clans from the region, who otherwise rarely see each other, and give the festival an important social dimension.