Dechenphu is located at the north-end of Thimphu Valley. The place is important for two related reasons. First, the name, Thimphu – Bhutan’s capital city, is derived from a rock in front of the temple where according to the legend, the Protector-Deity, Gyenyen Jagpa Milen, is believed to have entered or sunk (Thim in local language) into the Phu (hill). The rock that can be seen today has a shape of hill. The second reason of importance is that the temple is considered as the principal abode of the Protector-Deity.
Aap Gyenyen, as he is fondly called (Aap means father, elderly man in Dzongkha), is considered a very powerful deity whose protection one seeks and is believed to be bestowed almost instantly. Hence, the place is very popular among people venturing on long journeys, among students appearing for exams, among businessman making decisions, with politicians contesting in elections, etc.
My story with Aap Gyenyen goes back to 1996. I was freshly back to the country after a long sojourn in Italy. I was young, brash, western-educated and so, a bit of a non-believer since I was trained in scientific fields. However, on the insistence of my father, I went to seek the protection of Aap Genyen for a trip to Singapore – my first trip abroad in my new job.
After completing my rituals of prostrating three times and receiving the holy water, which I seeped some and wiped the rest on my head, I sought the divination by throwing the dice. The first one went bad. I had an unlucky number. I was asked to give a second try. I did. Bad number again. The caretaker-monk said I could try three times. I was getting bit nervous by then and asked how I could get a good one. “You can promise something in return, like, you can offer a butter lamp or conduct a ceremony,” he replied. I made a deal with Aap Genyen and threw the dice for the third time. This time I hit the perfect 11. “What does this divination mean?” I asked the monk. “Well,” he replied, “You have his protection. You will be alright. But you have to be very careful in whatever you are setting out to do.”
I travelled to Singapore where the hosts picked me from the airport and accommodated me into a five-star hotel. However, on the very first day of my week-long stay, I was hit by a food poisoning. I was vomiting, I had diarrhoea, giddiness; I felt my stomach was hit by a car and anything I ate was turning to water and draining out without even stopping for a minute in there. Fever was rising and I even fainted once in the toilet. I thought I was going to die. I missed the first two days of the seminar and was sick for the rest of the week.
Finally, on returning home I visited Dechenphu again and told the monk what happened. “I told you to be careful,” he brushed aside with a smile – of having successfully foretold my fate.
Now 21 years on, I always make sure to visit this place before I venture out on anything important that I do in my life. Over the years my relationship with Aap Gyenyen has become as human as it can be. I rarely throw the dice. Rather in my prayers, I tell him to look out for me (“That’s you job, my friend,” I whisper) and that if there was anything I could do, or he needs, he just has to tell me. 21 years on he has been more than willing to keep me and my family safe.
I encourage my children to follow me. And they religiously visit Dechenphu on the onset of every important decision in their life. I named my second daughter, Dechen, after the temple and have placed her under his protection.