The Cotton-Clad Procession

Tergar Monastery and Monlam Pavillion, Bodhgaya
20 January, 2019

Comprised only of monks who have completed the traditional three-year retreat in the Kagyu tradition, this ceremony is a test of their accomplishment as yogis and takes place on the last day of the Monlam. It was incorporated into the Monlam by His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa during the 34th Monlam in February 2017, following a tradition established by the 7th Karmapa, Choedrak Gyatso.

During the Kagyu three-year retreat, retreatants study the Six Yogas of Naropa, the first of which is the practice of tummo. This practice, which is associated particularly with Milarepa, involves generating heat using the body’s inner fire. Proof of success would be demonstrated at the end of the retreat when retreatants had to wear a wet, white cotton cloth, which they would dry with their body heat—not an easy feat in the climate of Tibet.

This year, prior to the ceremony, retreatants practised the Six Yogas of Naropa each evening from 13th – 19th January in the main shrine room at Tergar Monastery. As these are secret practices, their privacy was ensured by drawn curtains at all windows and locked doors.

On the final evening, they practised all night until they emerged into the early morning light on the 20th. In previous years the weather for this ceremony has been quite balmy, but this year, being January, it was challenging at a mere 9 degrees Centigrade.

1. A huge cauldron of water covered in flower petals stands outside the main shrine room.


2. The retreatants emerge from the shrine room led by 3 incense bearers.


3. They are barefoot and wear the white cloth and Kagyu red ceremonial hat.


4. Stripping off the cloths, they dip them in the water until they are soaking wet.



6. Under the cloth they wear a yogi’s belt and short skirt, above their shorts.


7. The procession begins with a circumambulation of Tergar Temple, led by the Drupon Lama (retreat master) of Rumtek Monastery and the Head Khenpo of Rumtek Shedra.


8. They walk with their hands on their hips, arms clear of the body.


9. Through Tergar main gate onto the road.


10. Where monastics and laypeople are waiting to offer khatas and show their deep respect for the yogis’ achievements.


11. The procession makes its way under the Welcome gate, past the line of devotees.


12. Every so often, the monks turn to the side to face the devotees, in a public demonstration their accomplishment.


13. Until they reach the Pavillion where crowds of people await.


14. They process on the red carpet down the central aisle


15. And take the place of honour on the stage, to the left of Gyaltsab Rinpoche


16. Where they remain for the Twenty Branch Monlam prayers


17. in recognition and celebration of their achievement.



37th Kagyu Monlam Schedule

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Recorded during the 37th Kagyu Monlam, Bodhgaya, India. January 28-30, 2020.