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The lha festival: A dying Bon tradition
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Procession to Halong

Gortshom village in Mongar celebrates the vestiges of a Bon festival which was aimed at ensuring soil fertility, timely rainfall, health of cattle, and bumper harvests.

Iha procession Procession to Halong
The lha (pronounced Ha in Gortshom) festival in Gortshom takes place in the sixth month, to propitiate local deities. Two households - Thogpa and Wogpa - host the lha festival every year the reason being that about 60 years ago, Gortshom had only these two households. These tsawas (hosts), with today's family extensions, are responsible for contributing and participating in the festival every year.

Traditionally, the lha festival was presided over by a Bonpa (Bon practitioner) known as Lha Bon. The last one was Sangay (Meme Lha Bon), who died about 40 years ago. Since then, the lha tradition in Gortshom has gradually entered into a decline. While a gomchen from the village has now assumed some minor roles, the people conduct the festival relying on their memories.

Singing wayo verses is a main feature of the lha celebration, with different versions sung in the different communities it is celebrated. The exact meaning being lost, reference to wayo recitation in Kurtoe dialect is 'wayo bo' meaning 'call wayo'. Wayo wayo bjing is a refrain after each wayo couplet. Over the years the self-contained couplets, which have a unique rhythm, have reduced.

Recited without a clear sequence most couplets contain lewd and ribald phrases, expressions that echo the spirit of the celebration or the shedding of inhibitions in sexual behaviour. The expression zhag sum Ha bang ngo me tsha characterizes this spirit.


Bon Vocabulary
ridam closure of mountain spacer serkem drink offering
Bonpa Bon practitioner spacer tsawas hosts
dulang collection of maize spacer singing nyojang a farewell song
chhangkor drinks-circuit spacer tsen choed offering to Tsen deity
chhang drinks spacer Lha Bon's photsen male-tsen deity
keptang loaf spacer dudkilan restriction of evil spirits
dromzar breakfast spacer chogtse mini-table
lanchhen the greater lan spacer mani stupa
lanchhung the smaller lan spacer Phagchham dance of hog
dulang collection of maize spacer Tsenjan gift of tsen
Contributed by Tashi Choden, The Centre for Bhutan Studies

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