Magicians and Demons in Bumthang, Bhutan, 108 Majestic Temples that Were Erected In A Single Day All Over The Himalayas, To Pin Down An Ogress
The Tang and Ura Valleys are mostly pastures, with wide grazing vistas for sheep and yaks, dotted with small quaint villages and ancient hilltop monasteries.
The Chume and Choekhor valleys, are mostly agricultural, with apple groves, potatoes, wheat, barley, buckwheat and now, due to global warming, it is warm enough to grow rice as well.
Most of the action takes place in Choekhor (pronounced “Jakar”) Valley.
It is where the religious heart of Bhutan is located.
In the center of the Jakar valley, the main town is situated by the river, and it has about three streets lined with shops and stores.
Many of the shops sell the same general collection of clothing, shoes, toiletries, hard groceries and souvenirs.
There are also some speciality shops, and a few barebones restaurants with just a few wooden tables and a shelf featuring a few bottles of Coke or mineral water.
There are so many amazing historic places to see around Jakar.
There are sacred places with much Buddhist significance to visit, and the main treat is that we are in town for the annual Jakar Tshechu Festival.
The Tshechu festival involves elaborate costumed and masked dances, conducted by monks.
These dances are a form of story telling, and most of the local people who have attended these festivals since childhood, know the stories by heart.
The movement of the dancers and the precise choreography are practiced and rehearsed by the monks according to detailed instructions given by past Buddhist masters.
The masks are ancient and they are stored all year until festival time.
The festival takes place over four days.
The photos in this post are from day one, when the monks rehearse the dance movements without costumes or masks.
In Jakar, we visited the oldest temple in Bhutan.
It was vibrant with people who came to pray, and monks were performing a puja for a family who had lost one of their loved ones.
Upon request, the monks perform ritual Pujas for the safe passage of a recently departed soul.
It is believed that the recently dead spirit of a person who had identified itself for so long as a human body, goes through a phase of disorientation when it first leaves the body and finds itself in the “Bardo.”
The Bardo is a realm that exists between incarnations, and between the earthly realm and the realm of the unseen.
It is where Buddhists believe that you get to meet the god of death, assess your life and mistakes, and where your consciousness, karma and good deeds, will determine your next incarnation.
It is a privilege to witness a Puja performed by the monks.
I always take the time to sit beside them and listen, until they are done.
The reciting of prayers is done in a fast rhythmic movement.
The language is ancient and most beautiful, and just listening to the recitation, makes me feel at peace.
The Puja ritual involved chanting of prayers, repetition of Sutras and a round of offerings of cookies and snacks.
I took one cookie from a tray that was offered to me.
Then monks offered a flat bread which was fried, which I refused with much gratitude.
Another monk walked around with a huge silver teapot and poured Ara, (the local alcoholic spirit which is made from any kind of leftover grain), which I accepted, and he poured the clear liquid into the palm of my hand, which I cupped and sipped like the rest of the monks did.
It actually tasted good, but I was later told that they had mixed it with sugar, and that the pure Ara actually tastes more like vodka.
Towards the end of the Puja, the family who had asked for the rituals to be performed, walked by every monk and and handed them crisp new bills of money.
The monks accepted the money with equanimity.
There was no showing of gratitude, not even a nod of recognition.
This is how the monks in the monasteries get pocket money to buy little things.
They get donations for performing Pujas for families.
The monasteries themselves are assisted by the government and the Central Monks Body, or from generous donations from the public and foreign money as well.
At the end of the Puja, the monks threw uncooked raw rice, banged the cymbals and blew long horns, rang bells, and blew trumpets and beat the old drums.
This temple, which is called Jampa (Pronouned Jambey) Lhakhang, has a great story attached to it.
It is one of the mystical 108 monasteries that were miraculously constructed by King Songsten Gampo in ONE NIGHT, all over the Himalayas.
There is another temple in Bhutan, located in Paro which is called Kyichu Lhakhang,
which is also one of the 108 miraculous temples that were constructed in ONE NIGHT….
The Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo built these temples in the year 659.
According to a legend, Songtsen Gampo build these 108 temples to subdue an ogress or a demoness, named “Sinmo,” who had spread over the areas of Tibet and Bhutan.
Songtsen Gampo was said to have magically multiplied himself and to have sent all of his emanations into the different regions of Tibet and Bhutan, to erect 108 temples in one day to pin down this Ogress by the holy power of the teachings of the Buddha.
The pinning down of the Ogress was done to subdue evil and harm and to allow the greater spread of Buddhism across the Himalaya region.
Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro was built to pin down the left foot of the ogress.
Jokhang Temple, in Lhasa, Tibet, is built on the heart of the ogress.
And Jampa (Jambey) Lhakhang was built over the left knee of the demoness.
If you think that this is just a mythical story, you would be surprised to know that in Bhutan, it is accepted as absolutely REAL.
In a corner of the dark temple, where photography is absolutely not allowed, as it is forbidden inside all of the temples in Bhutan, I BEGGED the monk to let me take a photo of the map of the Ogress-Demoness body with the 108 holy and mysterious temples pinned on her body.
The monk must have seen my eagerness…..Because he relented and allowed me to take some close up photos of the drawing of the Ogress’ body.
Toilets are not easy to find while you are touring rural Bumthang, so whenever I feel the natural call to pee, I pee outside.
Inevitably….I find myself peeing behind huge and overgrown bushes of marijuana, growing by the side of every dusty road in Jakar, Bumthang.
As I crouch down and release the many green teas or delicious butter teas that I have had that day, I survey the ripe Marijuana leaves and seeds, and chuckle to myself… As I remember how long it took to legalize marijuana in parts of the USA…
Nobody smokes Marijuana in Bhutan.
This is why it grows wild and dusty near every farmhouse and every street in the village here.
Smoking cigarettes in public places is illegal in Bhutan.
I have not seen anyone light a cigarette, nor have I seen cigarettes or tobacco sold in any store.
Bhutanese people chew betel nut, which is called here Doma, and some drink the local moonshine called Ara.
For over twenty five years, I have not used any kind of mind altering substance, and I have no interest at all in them.
But on occasion, I do drink wine, rice wine or beer.
Sonam, our guide, who comes from this valley, drove over to his aunt’s home and brought over to our hotel, a bottle of her homemade Ara.
He gifted me a large amount of this home brew, bottled inside a plastic Coke bottle.
I only had a taste, and I can report that it was strong, clear and tasted like a powerful vodka.
That night, the alcohol and the high altitude, did not mix well in my stomach and head….
My dreams were filled with images of masked magicians, Lamas with tall hats, demons, a naked ogress and ancient holy temples….
The sounds of horns, drums, trumpets, and sea shells, were sounding in my dreams….
The seashell is an iconic ritual tool in Tibet and Bhutan.
It is said that when the people hear the sound of the seashell being blown, it is the Buddha Himself…. Calling them to Wake Up from a life of illusions and dreams…