Let the Puja Begin!

The day of the Puja ceremony is a very important landmark in the history of any Everest expedition. It can’t happen on any old day, the date has to be proposed by a local Lama, a holy man from a nearby monastery. 
The Sherpa team is always enthusiastic to make the Puja ceremony a success: they bring special foods and drinks as offerings to placate the gods who live on the mountain. 
First comes the hard work: hundreds of stones must be shifted to build a special cairn. Then the cairn is decked with a long pole and cloths, which will bear the offerings. Long strings of prayer flags are kept ready for the final stage of the ceremony. 
For the participants it is important to bring climbing artifacts to be blessed. Crampons, ice axes and other items are leaned against the cairn to bring them luck. Prayers are chanted then small cups of rice wine are sipped. Most Pujas also involve biscuits, fruit and sweets. 
At the end of the Puja, rice and flour are thrown. For the local people an important milestone has been reached – the gods have been asked for safe passage. We have shown our respect to the mountain and the spirits that guard it. For the western climbers the ritual is also vital, it bonds the team together in a good way and creates lots of goodwill! It’s also moving and a lot of fun – a fascinating thing to be a part of.
Questions for class discussion:
1. What are the main religions of the Himalayan region?
2. What is the purpose of a Puja ceremony? 
3. Prayer flags have five colours: white, blue, green, red and yellow. Can you do some research and find out what the colours signify? 
The Puja festival is one of the most important events at Base Camp. © Matt Dickinson 
Preparation begins with the construction of a large stone chorten or cairn. This can take many hours. © Matt Dickinson     
It was exciting for me to be a part of the Puja celebrations ... only the second time I have had the honour! © Matt Dickinson    
A  local holy man is invited to chant prayers during the ceremony. Here you can see him preparing the foods and drink that will be used as an offering to the gods. © Matt Dickinson  
At the height of the ceremony, prayer flags are strung from the Puja pole. Rice is flung into the air and flour is thrown for good luck! © Matt Dickinson  
The prayer flags bestow special blessings over the team. If the prayer flags break or get blown away it is considered very bad luck. © Matt Dickinson  

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