Serving Tibetan Butter Tea to 25,000 People

Here is the third in a series of posts on attending His Holiness’ the Dalai Lama’s Jangchup Lamrim teachings at Ganden Jangtse Monastery in Mundgod, India in December 2014. This time, we focus on the incredible spectacle of the preparation and service of the Tibetan butter tea (po cha) that is provided for the teaching attendees twice a day. Don’t miss the videos below. They’re great!

Monks running to serve Tibetan butter tea
Monks running to serve Tibetan butter tea to attendees at the 2014 Lamrim Teachings at Ganden Jangtse Monastery

When His Holiness teaches at a monastery in India, the crowds are enormous  — at the 2014 Lamrim teachings there were about 25,000 people — and each of those people receives tea during the morning and afternoon breaks. Monks from the host monasteries (in this case Ganden, plus nearby Drepung) bear the huge responsibility of preparing and serving all that tea.

Preparing the Butter Tea for the Multitudes

To make the tea, the monks use water, tea, milk, butter and salt, much of which seemed to be donated from a stream of Tibetan attendees. The images and video below show the final stages of the preparation, where the monks stir and pour the almost-finished tea in giant vats on wood-fired stoves.

VIDEO: MONKS PREPARING THE TEA

Tibetan butter tea is traditionally churned. In these huge quantities, the monks use these big paddles to mix, and giant ladles to pour and re-pour it instead.

Serving the Butter Tea

Monks preparing Tibetan Butter tea
Monks preparing Tibetan Butter tea for the 2014 Jangchup Lamrim teachings.

Once the tea is made, hundreds of young monks pour it into battered, labeled, aluminum teapots with blessing scarves tied onto them, and run with the pots brimming with scalding hot tea from the temporary kitchen area a couple of hundred yards to the main hall and the huge grounds surrounding the hall full of attendees.

VIDEO: MONKS RUNNING TO SERVE THE TEA

They split off into smaller groups at the direction of strategically-placed more senior monks, fanning out through the huge crowds to pour the tea. During the teaching it’s an exciting and slightly nerve-wracking spectacle as the young monks rush into the packed crowds — balancing sometimes precariously as they pick their way through the hard-to-find stepping spots.

VIDEO: SERVING THE TEA TO THE ATTENDEES IN THE MAIN HALL

The attendees rustle up their cups and hold them out to be served as the monks approach, dodging the hot tea pots and clearing space where they can.

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Updated on February 7, 2020. First published on March 8, 2015.

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