Appeasing One’s Protective Deities
“Bhutanese families believe in the power of these deities to affect the welfare of human. They are located in or associated with certain power spots or landmarks such as cliffs, trees, rocks, forests and rivers, which are often considered their citadel or residence,” says Dr Karma.
The practise of appeasing one’s protective deities is strong and deeply rooted.
Huffing and puffing, five men are atop a steep climb. It is 6:30 am. The men are on an important mission. They are on their way to appease their “protective deities.” They do it every year.
The belief is strong and has been passed down for generations. The safety of the family, the success of the year, including crop yield, depend on how appeased their protectors are. The deities are often clan, family or local territorial deities.
“Bhutanese families believe in the power of these deities to affect the welfare of the human. They are located in or associated with certain power spots or landmarks such as cliffs, trees, rocks, forests and rivers, which are often considered their citadel or residence,” says Dr Karma.
Procedures of the ritual
The ritual begins at the end of a dirt road. There is a ruin of what appears like a two-storey traditional house. A new lhakhang and a choeten were built nearby recently. The men get quickly to task. One gets the saang ready. Others open the trekking bags, taking out oily bangthras (big containers made from cane). Inside the bangthras are rice and meat, lots of them, compartmentalised by banana leaves.
They take out the rice and arrange it on the flat space of the choeten. On top of the rice are pieces of sikam and shakam. Fruits are cut into halves and placed alongside. The bigger share is for the King. The other two are for his servants (their protector and his courtiers, it seems).
They prostrate muttering words of invocation to the deities, calling them by their post:
“We’ve come again to offer you the freshest of the fresh, please accept our yearly offerings. We’ve, like our forefathers, come to seek your protection…”
The youngest, a student, hardly utters a word as he hesitantly prostrates. He offers a Nu 10 note and continues fiddling with his earphones. Two stray dogs have come without invitation. A crow is circling above the choeten.
“It’s a good sign,” says the eldest in the group, Gupdrep (former gup) Thanka. They chase the dogs and wait for the crow to come and eat the offerings.
Offerings made to avoid calamity
Both in the Pre-Buddhist and Buddhist worldviews, these gods play a major role in human wellbeing and prosperity. The traditional Bhutanese life was a constant negotiation with such forces of nature which fill the environment alongside the visible forms of life such as humans, insects, animals and birds.
Dr Karma Phuntsho says that the deities are also considered to be worldly protectors who have a sense of expectation and fear and it is considered important to make timely offering. “If seasonal offerings are missed, they show their dissatisfaction and annoyance through inclement weather, epidemics or some other natural calamity.”
“In a real sense, doing it on time and doing it the right way gives us positive energy and confidence,” added Dr Karma Phuntsho.
By Ugyen Penjor (This article has been edited for the Bhutan Times)