The house of Changyul Galem: A repository of untold cultural history

Besides the famous love story of Changyul Galem and Gasa Lamai Singye, the house is a repository of rich cultural history often not heard of

Just a kilometer north from Punakha Dzong and adjacent to the road, lies the famous house of Galem at Changyul in Punakha.

At a first glance, Galem’s house looks like another one of those huge, dilapidated Bhutanese houses that are crumbling down due to neglect.

While many Bhutanese are familiar with the unfortunate and tragic love story of Gasa Lamai Singye and Changyul Bum Galem (The Romeo and Juliet of Bhutan), a few Bhutanese know the important cultural aspects of the three-storied Galem’s house, which still exists today.

Punakha’s Cultural Officer Sangay Wangmo said although the house is in danger of collapsing on the outside, it would actually last as the walls were made of rammed earth.

Meanwhile, the house was inspected by the Ministry of Culture for durability of the walls after cracks appeared on them. It is believed that the rammed earth walls become stronger with age, increasing their durability. 

With the aging of the house the present generation of Galem were forced to move to their present house, which is about a few meters away.

Cultural history associated with the house

The house dates back to the times of Zhabdrung although there is no official record when the house was constructed.

However, the cultural officer of Punakha believes that the house existed even before the Zhabdrung arrived in Bhutan in 1616 and holds important cultural aspects since then.

While the present generation of Galem has no knowledge, if sources are to be believed, then the cultural connection of the house dates back to the Zhabdrung’s time.

The present generation has been following the tradition which was passed down by their forefathers, but is clueless about why it needs to be carried on or performed. It is also believed that it was the only house which existed even before the arrival of the Zhabdrung, which is even authenticated by photo archives.  

During the first day of the Punakha Dromchoe, the Marchang (Libation ceremony) and sho (Uncooked rick in a bangchung with sticking the incense stick inside and uncooked eggs placed on top) must begin or have to come from the house of Galem and then moved towards the Dzong.

The house had to make offerings three times in a year to Goendrap (Local deity). The first is on the 15th day of the 9th Month of the Bhutanese Calender, when it had to offer Soelthap (Reception offering) to Goendrap when arriving from Gasa to Punakha for his winter residence.

Brief fact on Goendrap (Local deity) of Punakha

Goendrap, a local deity of Punakha, is believed to be residing in Punakha during the summer and Gasa during the winter. Goendrap, from history, was supposed to bestow his blessings to those who do religious deeds. Every year, on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Bhutanese calendar, Gasa Dzongkhag offers a welcoming ritual ceremony.

The second time is on the 24th day of the 12th Month of the Bhutanese Calender, a member from the Galem’s house has to go to the Goendrap Neykhang, which is located at the other side of the MoChhu for daily offerings to Goendrap.

Before the Zhung Dratshang took over the Goendrap Neykhang, the ancestors of Galem took care of the lhakhang, but there are no records as to since when.

Third is on the 15th day of the Third Month of the Bhutanese calendar, when zhabkyel (see-off offering) has to be offered to the Goendrap when leaving for his summer residence to Gasa from Punakha.

On the 29th day of the 12th Month of the Bhutanese calender, Kabji pazaps bring the tshendhar (Fringed warrior banner) of Gay Ngyen Jakpa Melen (guardian deity of Thimphu) from Pangrizampa and it is then kept for five days in Thudrup Lhakhang in Etsukha village in Kabisa, Punakha.

Then on the 5th day of the first month of the Bhutanese calendar, before bringing the tshendhar to the Punakha dzong, they perform Lapsay (Smoke Offering) and Tshashel (Purification ritual) in Thudrup Lhakhang. On the way, they stop at five various points where Marchang and tea is offered. Upon reaching Changyul Galem’s house they offer marchang to the tshendhar and it is then taken to their camp at Thangzona.

During the first day of the Punakha Dromchoe, the kabji pazaps take the tshendhar to Changyuel Galem’s house and after offering the Marchang ceremony they take it to the Punakha dzong. It is then kept till the end of the Dromchoe. 

Talking to Business Bhutan, Aum Zangmo, 77-year-old and the eldest in the family said, “I don’t know how and when this offering practice began. But as far as I remember the practice was being performed during my grandfather’s time and after his death my grandsons have been continuing the practice.”

“Those days when I was not married, my brothers used to perform the offerings but today my two grandsons do it,” she said. “Only male members of the family have to perform the offering but the reason is not known,” added the 77-year old.

Her grandsons, eldest Namgay Tenzin has to be the dha-zhu-me (Flag bearer) while the youngest, Dorji, carries the soe (Bangchung filled with uncooked rice with an egg on top and sticking incense sticks).

Namgay Tenzin has to carry a dhar (Fringed flag) along with a tshangkhu (Small sack) and stand outside the dzong whereby the people offer their nendhar during the welcoming and farewell ritual ceremony of Goendrap. He has to collect the nendhar from three different stops before the Goendrap is taken inside the Goendrap Neykhang or before being bid farewell to Gasa.

The future plans

The house has been vacated as it is unfit for use.

In 2020, a proposal was submitted by the family members for renovation of the house for commercial purposes which was declined by the dzongkhag. The plan was put on hold due to the lack of budget and also due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The family members wanted to construct a stone wall around the house, construct a stone bath and public toilet too.

Sangay Wangmo said that if allowed for renovation then the living culture would be on the brink of extinction.

Although in the 12 Five Year Plan, the heritage building restoration is in the plan, the dzongkhag could not do much due to the lack of budget.

The present generations of Changyuel Galem

Aum Zangmo has two daughters while her husband died a long time back. She has a younger sister (with inability to speak), who lives a few meters away from her house in Changyuel.

Namgay Zam and Chimi Om are the daughters of Aum Zangmo and the present eldest descendants of Changyul Bum Galem.

Namgay Zam, 57-year-old, has two sons – Namgay Tenzin, 38-year-old and Dorji, 29-year-old. Namgay Tenzin does not live there. He is married and has three daughters.

Chimi Om has two daughters and two sons. Both the daughters and one of her sons are married, while the youngest son is still studying.

Meanwhile, Galem’s house will add considerably to the attractions of Punakha if restored back to its glory as Changyul is popular among the people for the folklore of Gasa Lamai Singye and Changyul Bumo Galem.

Chencho Dema from Punakha