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Sacred dances in Bumthang: Ngang Lhakhang
A dancer performs at the Ngang Lhakhang
Ngang (swan) lhakhang in Chhoekortoe, Bumthang, is better known for some of the rare and oldest sacred dances in Bhutan. This includes a number of noblemen dances called Zhey not performed elsewhere in Bhutan.

These rare dances are performed during the annual two-day festival in December where family members from Samdang dung and Ngang Lhakhang Chhoejey lineage play a central role.

Before the start of the tshechu the protecting deity, Genyen Jagpa Meloen, is received from the house of dung in Samdang village.

The people of thedung household lead the eight Zheps (noblemen dancers) and eight Pazaps known as Threps (tax bearers) to the lhakhang.

Enroute to the lhakhang the people from the Ngang Lhakhang chhoejey lineage receive the procession.

While members of the Ngang Lhakhang Chhoejey look after the mask dancers Samdangdung members take care of the Pazap and Zheps.

During the festival a member from each lineage are required to attend the entire tshechu. Until and unless the festival dismisses for breaks, the representatives of the two families are expected to sit together.

A woman, known as Dungzam, from the Samdang dung lineage sits at the right corner of the courtyard with a small traditional table on which is placed a Dzaphob (fine quality wooden bowl) filled with singchang (local brew). Her responsibility is to receive important guests and serve them singchang.

Karma Leki, 46, from Samdangdung who sits as Dungi Aum said the Dzaphop should not be left empty. She said that her mother served as Dungi Aum in the past and now it was her turn.

Thinley, 68, from Samdangdung said that the two families had established the festival. "Samdangdung are the descendents of Gyelpo Thrisung Deutsen and Ngang Lhakhang Choeje are the descendents of Lam Namkha Samdrup," said a senior language teacher, Lopon Tshewang of Chokhortoe who teaches at Wangdi Choling Lower Secondary School.

The Drapas of the Ngang Lhakhang Choeje have to wear red scarf as a sign of the followers of the Lama and they halt the night in the Lhakhang.

It is said that when the moon and constellation of seven sisters falls in line, 16 Threps headed by Samdangdung and 16 Draps (workers of the Lam) headed by Ngang Lhakhang Choeje gathers in their respective areas preparing for the festival.

The festival starts on the night of the 15th day of the 10th month of the Bhutanese calendar. The Ngang Lhakhang was being built by Lama Namkha Samdrup who is believed to have come from Tibet in the 15th century.

It is said that when he reached the place where the monastery stands today, a beautiful swan or Ngang-ma came flying in circles and landed there. The Lam considered this an auspicious sign and decided to build his monastery there.

The monastery thereafter came to be known as Ngang Lhakhang "Swan Monastery" and the valley called Ngang-bi (Swan valley).

For centuries, Ngang Lhakhang has served as the seat of direct descendants of Lam Namkha Samdrup, whose ancestry can be further traced centuries back to a powerful monastic lineage in Tibet.

Contributed by Nima Wangdi, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper 2006
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