Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Memories of Pangkhar Dungnakpo

Pangkhar is a small mystical village under Ura Geog in Bumthang. It is located in the foot of ruins of a Khar (castle) of Dungnakpo, and thus, the name of the village Pangkhar is derived from this historical or cultural location. Pang means ‘village or a plain’ and Khar means ‘castle’, making up as ‘plains at the foot of castle’.

According to the oral accounts, Dungnakpo was a powerful ruler of Ura region during the early times of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594–1651). It is believed that the Dungnakpo was a son of a demigod and born with extraordinary strength and power. The remains and legacy of such a superficial figure are seen even to these days.  

The ruin of the Khar or the Dzong of Dungnakpo is situated on the hill above the old Pangkhar village. The village has stretched much, in chorus to the population growth and developmental activities today. The Khar spread all over the hill, in an estimated area of around an acre. With the size and multiple sign of rooms at the ruin site, it is quite obvious that the Khar stood as one of the giant structures of those days. 

Considering the strategic location of the Khar on the peak of the hill, people believe that the Dungnakpo was a warrior with enemies from all directions. The northern side of the Khar seems strategically weak to defend the enemies, but some of his fortifications still exist. For instance, there are three levels of trench with roughly an average depth of two meters or so, cutting deep into the neck of the hill are still evident.  

One of Dungnakpo’s main rivals was Chokhor-Dep, who was also biologically related with the demigod. He was indeed a nemesis of Dungnakpo. Dep was a renounced ancient ruler of Chokhor region who built the Drapham Dzong (ruined) possibly towards the second half of the 16th century.   

Lore has it that, once Dungnakpo went to Chokhor to challenge the Dep. At Chokhor, he first met Dep’s mother in her kitchen, roasting wheat. “Where are you, child?” inquired the mother. “I came here to see your son”, he replied, little embarrassed though. After smelling some deceitful plans, mother held Dungnakpo tight in her left arm, until she finished roasting her wheat. Then she said the Dep is ploughing the field a little away from their residence. With some feelings of fear in his mind, Dungnakpo sneaked a look from a distance to the Dep who was ploughing the field. He saw Dep holding a running plough with one hand, and plucking full-grown trees on his way with the other hand. This exhibition of might frightened Dungnakpo much. He feared the worst, and headed back home.

Nevertheless, Dungnakpo was incomparable by the ordinary people like us. His remains and legacies are still a mystery for the people. One artefact that would give details of his strength and mightiness is the two pairs of Degor (traditional Bhutanese game played with a pair of spherical flat stones). The huge Degor are still seen at the eastern foot of the Khar. The size of his Degor are almost equal to that of standard dinning-table. It’s would weight not less than 50 Kilograms. Throwing 50 k.g. of Degor with a single hand is something impractical for normal human being.

One timeless legacy that the Dungnakpo remained in Pangkhar village was numerous flat stone bridges. There are as many as six huge stone bridges over the stream running through the middle of the village. Some stone bridges are too huge even to correct a slight angle for ordinary people these days. Amazingly, the sources of these flat stones are also seen near some of the bridges. The stone bridges benefited the people of Pangkhar for several generations, and are still in use.

Lhachhu or the water of God is a water pond in the northeast of the Khar. It is a small pond in a total dry land without a notable source or outlet. It is believed that, to ease the trouble of fetching water especially during the times of war, Dungnakpo stored a box full of water in this preferred location. The water never exhausted or dried up thereafter, and remained as a main source of water for the people residing in the Khar. We can still hear the sound of the wooden box if we hit the base of the pond with a sturdy stick.

A little towards the south of the Khar, is a place called Gortshom. Gor means ‘stone’, and Tshom means ‘mortar’. The name of the place was derived from a huge stone-mortar of Dungnakpo, which is still undisturbed. It is believed that the Dungnakpo’s men and women used this stone-mortar for pounding rice and maize collected from Kurtoe and Zhongkhar region.

One miraculous believe about the Dungnakpo is that, he jumped from the hillside of Gortshom to the place called Bangthama. If calculated straight, the distance would measure roughly around 400 meters. There is an apparent body-print of Dungnakpo at Bangthama. The kneeled-down position body-print on the rock is a testimony of such believes.     

Apart from the exhibition of his power, strength and wealth, there are also some signs to believe that the Dungnakpo is devout in nature. While building bridges in the village with his own hands are the clear indication of his spiritual deeds, some direct religious acts are also remembered. One incidence goes like this: When Galwa Lha Nangpa (1164-1224) entered the Ura valley after crossing the high Monlakarchung mountain and wide Chokhortoe and Tang valleys, Dungnakpo personally received the lama. It is said that the lama and the Dungnakpo had a tea together.  The stone seat of Lama and the Dungnakpo are still seen a little away in the northeast of the Khar. Every summer, some strange weeds use to grow before the seat of the lama and the Dungnakpo. It is believed that the weeds grew from the thrown over feeds of Dungnakpo’s riding horse.

While there is no clear ending of the lore, some believe that the Khar was raised down by a tragic fire catastrophe. However, looking at the stones and woods at the ruin site, there is no sign of fire and burning. Perhaps, this site would cater as one of the best sites for the archaeologists to learn about primitive Bhutan. With notable cultural landscape, the site would offer a wide range of artefacts with possible biofacts or ecofacts. Let us pray that, one day, the rubbles of this Khar will rise up to its former glory, overlooking the beautiful Pangkhar village.  

Friday, July 21, 2017

Balloon and a Politician

Recently, we’ve read some politicians getting unnecessarily in a sweat, losing sleep with the thought of Ministry of Education spending some amount on balloons to train our teachers. We appreciate for such a rare (and childlike) concern that we’re receiving for the first time from our lawmakers. Perhaps, this might be from the wisdom of hindsight – expertise, education and experience.

As a teacher, at English for Effective Communication Training, we’ve never realized that we’re bursting nation’s Ngultrum 5, which could be otherwise used to build a bridge over Moa River, increase pay and allowances for our esteemed politicians who agonize even on a single balloon, fund third country tour for benevolent ministers or expend to increase the width or breadth of blacktopping of our feeble Geog Center roads.

As a teacher, we never calculate things in terms of balloons and toys. We look at the end benefit. For instance, if using a balloon provides the shot in the arm in teaching-learning process, we purchase several balloons per lesson.  We use it in the class. We never take it back home or broadcast in social media. At home, our children blow plastics and kick cans instead of balloons and balls. Indeed, there are many teachers who run their home more frugally than their classroom. 

Respected politicians, did you ever notice that some of our teachers pay top dollar for preparing teaching-learning-materials? Have you ever heard of a teacher, grief-stricken with ever sophisticated laptop loan (arranged by the ministry?), done all, but for our students? Sacrificing so called paid leave (which made us ineligible for yearly leave encasement) in receiving Professional Development Programmes, or numerous other summer and winter programmes?

For us, it is really shocking and shameful even to stare at such a blunt post by honorable personals in social media. I think there are many better topics than a balloon to consider upon. For instance, our towns are overflowing with jobless youths; seasoned teachers are voluntarily leaving this noble profession; youth related issues are escalating; suicide case is greater than ever. I think, simply wasting time on agonizing on a single balloon cannot address any of these issues.

Nevertheless, nothing nastiest or most horrible comments will wipe out our sincere dedication and commitment. We are inspired nor by the sweet-coated words used in political pledge, neither by the reaches of this world. It is the innocent faces, looking at us each day, that keep us motivated to move further. Happy Teaching!    

Sunday, April 23, 2017


There is a secret that takes the Dragon Kingdom of Bhutan close to the heaven. It is neither the world’s tallest Buddha statue at Kuenselphodrang, nor the unique Drametse Ngacham (dance of the drummers from Drametse) of Mongar. It is a mound, mere piles of earth and stones. It is the chortens or the stupas – the white jewels of the Dragon Kingdom – jewels that have miraculous origins and with various types with great significance in the life of the Bhutanese people.

Stupa is a Sanskrit word meaning “to heap” or “to pile” and refers to the mound-like shape of the earliest stupas. The Mahaparinirvana Sutra tells us that it was Buddha himself who outlined the basic design of a stupa. The story begins at Buddha’s deathbed where he gave instructions about the disposition of his body. He said that his body should be cremated and the relics divided up and enclosed in four different monuments. These were to be erected at:

Lumbini, the place of Buddha’s birth Bodhgaya, where the Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree Sarnath, where he gave his first teachings Kushinagar, where he passed into parinivana. His disciples asked what form this monument should take. The Buddha did not reply but instead gave a practical demonstration. He took his outer yellow robe and folded it in half and in half again until it formed a rough cubic square. Then he took his begging bowl, which was round, turned it upside down, and placed it on top of the robes. “Make a stupa like this,” he said. So these original instructions, directly from the Buddha, have remained the basic form for all stupas throughout the world.

However, it is difficult to trace back the precise origin of the stupas. Some scholars presume that it originated much before the Gautama Buddha or the Buddha Shakyamuni. For instance, stupas like Riwo Langchen and Jewo Dampa chortens at Swayambunath in Nepal are believed to have appeared during the aeon of Ushnisha Buddha.

Others say that one of the early stupas was built on the remains of Buddha’s bones at Namo Buddha (Tagmo Lujin) in Nepal. Tagmo Lujin is the legendary tale of one of the previous lives of the Buddha, when he offered his own body with much satisfaction to a starving tigress as a form of alms giving. Such legends talk volumes to prove that chortens first emerged simply as a burial mound.

Looking to the more recent legend, Prince Siddharta undertook a milestone decision and deed in his life of cutting his hair to abjure his life in the palace. This, according to the twelve noble deeds prayers of the Buddha, happened under the chorten called Namdag. Such knowledge is indeed the testimony to the existence of chortens much before Gautama Buddha.

The next notable chorten is Jarung khashor at Kathmandu in Nepal. Several stupas were also constructed during the aeon of Buddha Shakyamuni. Thus, chortens are the oldest Buddhist religious monuments and originally appeared only as simple mounds of mud or clay to cover relics of the important Buddhist figures.
The origin of chortens in Bhutan is not really clear, but the time might be much later than its first emergence. Buddhism first emerged from India and started to flourish in Tibet and then came to Bhutan. Chortens are mere appendages of Buddhism and we can generalise that there is less possibility of appearance of chortens in Bhutan before the arrival of Guru Rinpoche. Guru Rinpoche came to Bhutan in 746 AD and brought the Vajrayana teachings to Bhutan.

Some texts explain that it was only in the 15th century, during the time of Great Tertoen (treasure discoverer) Pemalingpa, that chortens like Mani Dangrim (mani wall) started to emerge on the Bhutanese soil. Later, the 17th century temporal ruler of Bhutan, Gyelsay Tenzin Rabgay, inspired the Bhutanese to build Mani Dangrim in many parts of the country. Mani Dangrim is considered a typical Bhutanese style chorten.

The traditional eight types of chortens which are generally referred to as the classical chortens are very common in the Himalayas. They spread from India to the Himalayan countries including Bhutan. Each one of these classical chortens signifies the major events of the life of the Buddha.

The first of the eight types is Desheg Chorten. Desheg Chorten signifies the birth of the Buddha. At birth, the Buddha took seven steps in each of the four directions – East, South, West and North. In each direction lotus sprang, symbolising the four immeasurable: love, compassion, joy and calmness. Desheg Chortens are bejewelled with lotus-petal designs along with seven heaped lotus steps.

Jangchub Chorten or the chorten of enlightenment commemorates the Buddha’s enlightenment. Buddha attended enlightenment at the age of 35 at Bodhgaya under the Bodhi tree. It is said that the chorten of enlightenment was built by the beings of all realms to mark the enlightenment of the Buddha.

Lhabab Chorten commemorates the return of Buddha to the earth from the heaven. At the age of 42, the Buddha visited the heaven to teach his mother and returned to earth following respectful request from his disciples. Hence, some refer to this chorten as the chorten of descent from the God Realm. This chorten is said to be modelled after building at Samkasya in India, on the very spot where Buddha descended from heaven. Steps on all four sides up to the dome make it distinctive from other chortens.

Choekhor Korwai Chorten is to honour the first sermon of Buddha. Lord Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining enlightenment at Deer Park in Sarnath in India, which is known as Varanasi these days. He ‘turned the wheel of dharma’ to show all sentient beings the path to enlightenment. This chorten is characterised by various entrances to signify various paths to enlightenment.

Chotrul Chorten was built to observe Buddha’s deed of subjugation of Mutikpa or the heretics. The Buddha subjugated the heretics of Sravasti at Uttar Pradesh in India by showing miracles. Thus, the chorten is also called Miracle Chorten.

Yendum Chorten was built to celebrate the victory of the Buddha over the evil Devadatta. Devadatta was by tradition a Buddhist monk, cousin and brother-in-law to Gautama Buddha. However, he grew jealous of the Buddha and given much threat to the life and teachings of the Buddha.

Namgyal Chorten was built to rejoice the prolonged life of Buddha. It also symbolises the victory over all evils, including the mystery of death itself. Despite the pressure from the king of the evil, the Buddha decided to attain the state of Parinirvana only after prolonging his life by three months.

The last, Netendey Chorten or the chorten of nirvana is to remember the day when the Buddha passed into Parinirvana. It symbolises the Buddha’s complete absorption into the highest state of mind. The characteristic feature of the chorten of nirvana is its bell shape and it is usually not ornamented. This symbolises the expression of mourning over the death of the Enlightened One.

The other chortens are Chorten Kangnyim (stupas two legs), Mani Chukhor (Prayer wheel), Tashi Gomang (Glorious Chorten of Many Doors), and Mani Dangrim. Chorten Kangnyim and Tashi Gomang chortens are rather rare in Bhutan. However, Tashi Gomang exists as a mere miniaturised monument.

There is an aphorism that “if you save a worm from the army of violent ants, the merits are equivalent to that of building a chorten.” Such expression only means that there is nothing greater way of accumulating merits than constructing a chorten.

Chortens for Bhutanese are the source and symbol of peace and harmony. For instance, the legendary Chorten Kora in Trashiyangtse was built in the 18th century by Lama Ngawang Lodroe to subdue a harmful demon. People started to enjoy boundless peace and harmony after the completion of the peerless relic of the kingdom.

The chortens for Bhutanese are also shrines. The presence of chortens in abundance shows the faith people have in Buddhism. Even the mere sight of chorten brings immensurable faith and devotion in the minds of the Bhutanese people. This is the reason why people build chortens in public places.

Druk Wangyel Chorten at Dochula is the masterpiece of the modern Bhutanese art and architecture. But it has more spiritual value beyond the outer aesthetic beauty. It is a heartfelt expression of the royal family and the people of Bhutan to His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King, and his reign. It is a symbol of gratitude, victory and peace frozen in the form of sacred stupas.

As chortens are considered the Gyelwai Thug or the mind manifestation of the Buddha, people seek refuge in it. There is not a single mountain pass in Bhutan without a chorten. For some, it may be the ornament to the woods and mountains but it also brings a sense of presence of gods. Travellers pray for their safe journey with deep devotion every time they come across the chortens.It is common to see the Bhutanese people circumambulating a chorten. Circumambulating a chorten enables a positive reincarnation and spends positive energies. Circumambulating the representation of mind of the enlightened one is a judicious means to accumulate merits.

Chortens are the eternal representations of the enlightened ones. If something remains for eternity, it would be chortens. It is a wish-fulfilling jewel of our country. It is the peerless relic, radiance of which will bestow us with peace, harmony and tranquillity.

Special appearance of an owl in my unpublished novella

Photo: Google
Your honour, the guardian of the Law of Kingdom Bhutan    
I never thought that one of the beautiful moments in my life will end up in bitter tragedy. We are simply a lover, and in my knowledge loving someone deep from heart is not a crime. But today, I am aware that love is not always a bed of roses. 
It was Deki who called me first. It was she who arranged all the dates that we had in our entire relationship. It was she who touched me first too. I am simply an ordinary man with ordinary thoughts. Complete innocent. I regret for being so impulsive.
I am sad that Deki’d been deceitful to me throughout our relation. She never told me that she was a student. Worst of all, she even stretched the truth about her age. She said that she’d completed her B.Ed from Paro College of Education. Who on this earth would complete Degree before attending the age of eighteen?  
I am totally innocent about the crime that I have committed. I would like to ask for forgiveness from all – the almighty God above who’d been blessing our relationship throughout, the law of the kingdom, and all the disturbed souls in this universe.

“Forgiveness?” the judge ejaculated. “You’re a teacher, not an innocent child. Now, you cannot push your blame to this little girl. Explanation is totally unnecessary in this case. There is no room for negotiation. I need only one word. ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. In the name of the almighty God, tell me. Have you done it?”
The respond, indeed, was already obvious to everyone in the court room. The judge only wanted Karma to officially confess to the crime. He wanted a single word ‘yes’ to come out from Karma’s own three-inched-mouth. This was indispensable for the jury to prepare a verdict.
A thought of his mother suddenly flashed through his mind – mother shedding oceans of tears upon hearing the verdict. Tears of sorrow. Shame. Embracement. Regret. But Karma was in a complicated situation as if like a peacock of plains of India in a snare.

“Yes,” said Karma. His voice sank to whisper as he officially confess to the crime that he’d committed but unwittingly. It was a word that will change everything in his life. Happiness into sadness. Love into hatred. Laughter into tears. Life in bed of roses into life like an animal in a cage. Sweets washed him from head to toe. He didn’t even remembered how he reached the police station. 
The night was total silent in the police custody. The only sound he could hear was a hoot of an owl from the roof of the next building. It called to his mind one unpleasant stories of an owl from his late grandfather. “Owl is considered as the bird of evils. Its hoot is a presage, warning that something unpleasant will happen. Even worst is to hear the owl muttering like a group of aged people together. It is a real presage, cautioning that someone from that family will be taken away by the lord of death.”
“It was one overcast night.” Grandpa continued. “Your mother was spinning a yarn and I was talking with your father over the warm hearth. You were sleeping on my lap. Suddenly, we heard an owl muttering on our rooftop. We were all frightened by the cry of this evil creature. All of us were silent. As silent as the grave. We understood that something inescapable hard luck will occur in our house, but none of use talked about it. We were all worried. We silently slept.  Exactly after three nights, your father was killed in a terrible car wreck. The misfortune warned by the owl is inescapable. Really inescapable!”...