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The lha festival: A dying Bon tradition
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lha festival Lanchhen, Langchhung and Duechoed
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Procession to Halong
Lanchhen, Langchhung and Duechoed

During lanchhen (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.

Ritual 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.

Good 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 Moley.

The 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.

This 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.


The 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.

In 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.

The 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.

Contributed by Tashi Choden, The Centre for Bhutan Studies
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