Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Watching the Traditions of My Village & Its Customs Degenerate

Pangkhar is one of the little rural communities in Ura. Some artistic people tend to compose acronym poem of Ura as Unhappy Remote Area, when in reality it is the land of tranquility – the small Switzerland.

QUITE OFTEN our comrades Uraps poke fun at Pangkharps as the people who inhabit amid several fishless streams (Na Mey Chu La Drimpai Pangkharpa). In fact, this is the most fascinating fact of Ura. None of the myriad of streams has fish in it. Some people also kid with us saying Brokpa (Nomads). But, it is the Brokpas who actually drink fresh mountain water and eat butter and cheese. Ura is also known for its mushrooms including well-liked Matsutake – the unsown crops (Mata Pai Lothog). With so many reasons, I am proud to be Urap, proud to be Pangkharp, and proud to be a Brokpa.

Till the late 1980s, the culture and tradition of my village was preserved with esteem. Pangkhar Chotpai is the most significant religious function of the community. It is not merely a festival, but also an annual ritual performance to evade all the calamities and disasters for the whole year. The function is also like a kind of annual feast for the distressed farmers: everyone gather round to eat and chew the fat together.

During my grandfather’s era, the Chotpai was celebrated in grand. Late Lopen Wangchen who acted as the religious head then, uses to direct the function in a very proficient manner. He uses to dole out all the village people with different roles and responsibilities to formulate the function efficiently. Village lay monks are disperse to perform rituals in the Lhakhang, young men to perform mask dance, and some have to work with wines while others have to work in the kitchen. Serving and washing was used to assign to the adolescent girls and boys.

My grandfather was a mask dancer. The mask dance instructor was Shingkhar Lam, who walks all the way from Shingkhar to teach dance to the young men of Pangkhar. My grandfather still remembers how his Late Lopen Wangchen would provide handy and relatable feedbacks and disparagement after every try-out notwithstanding of himself being a poor dancer. Several mask dances were used to perform in our Lhakhang during their time.

When I was a young boy, the splendor of our most important religious function has already dropped off. There was no initiative to lead the religious activities. Nevertheless, Lopen Galey (Son of Late Lopen Wangchen) and Umzai Sangye Phuntsho are the most learned people who care for the village custom with their level best. I never seen mask dance on the stone courtyard of our Lhakhang. But, it is obvious that there was a grand celebration of the Chotpai with various mask dances like Guru Tshengay (Eight forms of Guru), Bardo Cham (The dance of intermediate), and Shwo Shakhee (The dance of great yogi Melarepa) because the masks and other knick-knacks of these dances were still displayed on the pillars of the Lhakhang. The masks were least taken care so that we the kids use to fight for the musk and gown to make ourselves a clown (Atsara) or a jester.

As an immature boy, the most exciting part of the function was the fire work of warding off evil spirits. It occurs on the darkness of a day ahead of the real ritual starts. I felt it as one of the vital list not because Bumthang is full of demons (Dey Bumthaps), but it is only with this fire work that the evil spirits can be ward off from the village. The ritual team uses to lead the fire march from house to house, chanting mantras, burning fires, and shouting to terrify the evil spirits.

In next to no time, the practice of dispelling from home to home has bunged. To our dismay, the warding off evil spirits is done only in and around the vicinity of the Lhakhang. There was no much fun for the young boys and girls since then, and I too haven’t been to the Chotpai for last eight years. I don’t know how it looks like now, but undeniably its charm might have reduced by now because our Lopen Galey is too old to lead it.

This summer, I had been to my village for a break. I just went around observing the changes that has taken place in the last eight years. The number of houses has grown up drastically; trees grown bigger, and farm road was pulled from the heart of the village. Everything seems to be alien for me. The only things that remained unbothered were the Lhakhang, Chortens and Prayer Wheels which are spread all over the village. Some of the prayer wheels are about to collapse, demanding the restoration without more ado. The arrays of prayer flags that we used to play when we are small is nowhere to see, instate it was replaced by several electric poles.

Certainly, it is distressing for me to see my village happening just like ‘The God Must Be Crazy’ – a 1980s film written and directed by Jamie Uys. The living standards of the people have improved to a large extent, but so is the work load for them. By the first light, everybody is seen busy: milking the cows, collecting the mushrooms, weeding potato fields, decorating their house etc. No one is seen loitering and chatting for pastime. Perhaps, the materialistic mind is budding in the mind of my innocent village people, with the development. Nobody has time to uphold the bond among their neighborhood, let alone restoring the olden Lhakhangs and prayer wheels.

(Contributed to Thejournalist 30.07.11)

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