lha festival: A dying Bon tradition
Langchhung and Duechoed
(the greater lan) the following day, work was not permitted. The belief
was that hai lan (restriction of god) affected crops for twelve years if
the restriction was breached. Lanchhen was followed by lanchhung (the
smaller lan) or dudkilan (restriction of evil spirits). Early
in the morning, two women from Thogpa and Wogpa households went to villages
above Gortshom to make collections (dulang) of maize, chhang, cheese,
butter and small amounts of money which were offered at the duechoed that
evening. Duechoed was marked with elaborate rituals combining both Bon
and Buddhist practices.
objects were decorated with thread-crosses; tshog for the tsen was offered
at the altar, and then distributed among persons witnessing the event.
An interesting aspect of this ritual was the divination of good or evil
fortune for the tsawa of the year. First, two cups of chhang were kept
in front of the gomchhen performing the ritual. After the tsawa make prostrations,
and a brief prayer was conducted, the gomchhen threw grains of rice in
the air; the number of grain that fell into the cups were counted to determine
the fortune of the tsawa. Next, a person stood up to release a phuta filled
with singchhang from the forehead.
fortune was indicated if the phuta landed on the chogtse (mini-table),
kept on the floor, without falling upside down. The last day of the lha
celebration was held on the 15th day of the sixth month. The tsawa made
a butter torma at a mani (stupa), located a short distance away
from Khinyel Lhakhang. The Phagchham (dance of hog) began as the
dancers went towards the Lhakhang, outside which it was performed. The
lha celebration came to a close with the performance of a play called Pholey
tsawa had to observe the tsen choed (tsen offering) on the 18th
day of the second month. While other households offered tshog and burned
the fir branches from the lha celebration in their houses, the tsawa invited
one or two gomchen to a specific location up the mountain, above the village,
where they offered tshog and serkem (drink offering). They lopped
off some branches and implanted them in the soil to form a fence of symbolic
restriction against entry into higher reaches of the mountains.
restriction known as ridam (closure of mountain) was enforced to
prevent human interference in the mountains, such as hunting and cutting
trees. It is believed that such activities provoked the mountain spirits
to create destructive weather such as wind, rain and hailstorm. With this
ritual, the next two tsawa of Thogpa and Wogpa took over as the host for
the following year's lha celebration.
people of Gortshom believed that the failure to observe the lha tradition
provokes the wrath of the local spirits. Thus, if the Hai tsawa for a particular year fail to host the festival or delays it, they are
held responsible for any damage to the crops in the village. While this
has served as a social mechanism of ensuring the continuity of the tradition,
it is increasingly losing ground. Instead of observing the lan for two
and half days as in the past, only half a day is observed now.
the absence of a Lha Bon, most of his roles are discontinued. The tsengi
torma made by the Lha Bon earlier is no longer made. Since there are no
ritual or prayer ceremonies either at the halong or tsawa's house, the
gomchhen performs a serkem at the halong during the lha celebration. The
tradition of performing Phagcham and the Pholey Moley play has been discontinued.
The lha celebration is postponed to the 18th day of the sixth month if
paddy plantation is not completed. The duechod is conducted on the third
day and the lha calendar is no longer followed through the five days.
lha celebration in Gortshom is a dying tradition. The decline began with
the death of the last Lha Bon. While older generations have been able to
sustain the tradition, observing celebrations through their experiences
and memory, the younger generation can only experience and understand a
limited part of the tradition that has given Gortshom community and neighbouring
villages a sense of purpose, unity and festivity.
by Tashi Choden, The Centre for Bhutan Studies
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