National Geographic : 1963 Mar
Snuggling male (left) and female clowns entertain spec tators. Called acharyas, the masked clowns depict wise men who distract demons until good spirits prevail. 412 Heads swollen like cartoon characters, benevolent demons rush down the steps of the palace monastery in Gangtok. Black-faced Mahakala, Lamaism's chief guardian deity, and his attendants wear headdress skulls that evince the kinship of life and death. Leopard skin covers Mahakala's throne. Thunderbolt sym bols adorn the dancers' collars. Familiar ity with horrors, lamas believe, enables worshipers to brave the terrors of death. Fuming muzzle-loader signals the New Year's start in Gangtok, and the palace band begins to play. These Lepcha instrumentalists woodwind, gong, and two drums-ac company the Maharaja on his travels.