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Season One: Capturing the colours of fire at a sacred festival

Tales by Light season 1 storyteller Richard I'Anson travels to Bhutan to capture an important religious festival: the sacred fire festival. 

It’s very early in the morning and the monasteries in Bhutan are really active. And first thing in the morning there’s usually a morning prayer, so I can’t resist going in to see if I can gain access because it’s got this incredible, almost medieval atmosphere.

Debating is an ancient Buddhist ritual where one monk will make an argument to another. It’s then the task of the seated opponent to refute the position. As well as practicing Buddhist philosophy, it helps the young monks quash their ego by not letting them get attached to their personal viewpoint, and the Jambay Lhakhang Drup is a religious festival celebrating the completion of the temple in Bumthang in the seventh century.

We watched the final preparations for a fire blessing ceremony, which is one of Bhutan’s most spectacular festivals. A structure is set alight and the local people run through in order to wash away their sins. I’d never seen it before, but knew it would be absolutely spectacular to photograph.

In the evening, the crowds poured into the Jambay Lhakhang to witness the fire ceremony. The fires are lit to exorcise evil, and then the festival began with a dance of the black hats. This ancient ritual is said to purify all those who enter the structure. Bhutanese from around the region flocked to brave the flaming archway, hoping to bring prosperity to the coming year.

It was awesome. It went from a very sacred, religious festival to sort of absolute chaos. As they set fire to the structure, people came running through. Absolutely fantastic, never seen anything like it. 

About Richard I’Anson is an acclaimed travel photographer, founder of Lonely Planet Images and the author of Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Photography. His work can be seen all over the world with hundreds of book titles featuring his photography. As a travel photographer, Richard lives and breathes his profession and has photographed in nearly 100 countries across all seven continents.

To see more of Richard, check out his travel photography tips.

Watch Tales by Light season one on Netflix.