Ancient lhakhangs preserve their religious heritage

Chungse Lochoe and Phangyuel Bongko are celebrated in Chungdu Goenpa and Dargye Goenpa

Among the remote albeit well-preserved lhakhangs in the country, are the Chungdu Goenpa and Dargye Goenpa above the gewog center and Chungsaykha chiwog respectively in Phangyul gewog, Wangdue.

Both the monasteries serve as important religious institutions in the community. Festivals like Chungse Lochoe and Phangyuel Bongko are the two most important festivals celebrated in these lhakhangs. There are eight monks in Chungdu Goenpa and 12 monks in the Dargay Goenpa.

Talking about the significance of Chungdu Goenpa and Dargye Goenpa, the Cultural Officer of Wangduephodrang Dzongkhag, Shacha Gyeltshen said that in the 15th century, Lama Drukpa Kuenley visited Chungsegang village where later on Dargay Goenpa would be build. Later Lam Ngawang Drakpa rode on a horse and headed uphill and the horse upon reaching a place stopped going further and rested on a stone. Taking it to be a holy sign, the Lam built the temple.

He said Dargay Goenpa holds the pride of being the one-time-seat of the first Trongsa Poenlop. However, the temple was gradually abandoned after the establishment of the Wangduephodrang Dzong which resulted in the deterioration of the temple.

Once every three years, a festival called Loche (annual household ritual) is conducted by the community where men dressed as pazaps (soldiers) march into the temple to take away the Tsen-Zham (the sacred red hat) and Tsen-dar (banner of the guardian deity). The temple receives them and offers wine to the gods and gives away the hat and the staff. The soldiers also come out of the temple celebrating and they are offered wine at the place where the legendary horse had rested.

The culture officer talking about plans to take care of the monasteries said that the Dzongkhag has placed a trained caretaker in each lhakhang to manage possible disasters. “We have provided fire extinguisher in both the goenpas.”

He also said these lhakhangs were renovated recently and there is no allocated budget for maintenance.

“Preserving and conserving such monuments could add value to the rich and diverse culture in the community.”

The Mangmi of Phangyuel gewog, Wangchuk Namgyel said that for the safety and precaution of both the monasteries, there are reserve tanks placed near the lhakhangs. “We have also received fire extinguishers for both the monasteries from the dzongkhag as in 2013 a fire accident took place at Chungdu Goenpa and now we have the experience.”

However, during the lockdowns movement of people into the goenpas was not allowed. “Even the monks were informed to stay at their respective goenpas.”

The gewog has been providing food to the monks and community to prevent gathering and movement.

Additionally, after the monasteries were taken over by the government, monks conducted the rituals in the monasteries.

“People still make offerings like olden days and the culture is well preserved,” said the Mangmi.

Further, talking about the Chungse Lochoe and Phangyuel Bongko, he said the festivals had been practiced since olden days and they are still continued. “When we say Lochoe and Bongko, the meaning behind is the same but the only difference is the way we say it.”

The community believes that the red sacred hat (Tsen-Zham) is a precious relic. Every three years this sacred hat is taken out of the monastery. The main reason behind such festivals in the olden days was the celebration of the original Lord Buddha since they were not familiar with lamas.

Chungse Lochoe is celebrated every three years and the next celebration will take place in 2022. Phangyuel Bongko is celebrated every two years. “We celebrated it in 2019 and now it will take place in 2021,” said the culture officer.

The community is playing an important role in preserving the monuments and associated festivals while the dzongkhag and gewog authorities also contribute their part.  “Everyone is free to participate in these community events. We don’t collect money from sponsors because that would be depriving the poorer people from the privileges of the community.”

The youth in the gewog are very involved the festivals. “In the previous Chungse Lochoe, all the performers were youth,” said the Mangmi.

Chado Namgyel, 24, from Phangyul, said: “I heard that the celebrations are an offering to the gods and a tribute to our tradition.” In the past it was performed to appease the local deities and protect the community from external elements like enemies.

Twenty-six year old Kinley Chimi said by performing in the festival, he is thanking the local deities for protecting the community and blessing them with prosperity. “I hope this time around, we will get to celebrate and appease the deities for a prosperous year.”

The story is supported by DoIM’s Rural Grant Reporting Project.

Sonam Tashi from Wangdue