16 March 2020 – The temple of Athang Rukha that was rebuilt less than 10 years ago needed a new roof. That’s because when it was built we couldn’t afford to do it beyond the basics. The Oleps – as the inhabitants of Rukha are known, had just come out of extreme poverty with the help of Tarayana. And I, as the sole funder, was not in a great financial position. Still, given our limited resources and circumstances back then, we did a good job and built a temple that was eventually consecrated in 2013. And compared to the shackle and the ruins that we had before, this new place was a master piece.
With time, though, we got ambitious. The villagers got ambitious. The new lama wanted to do up the place. “It is a place of worship.” he argued. “It is a place where people come seek spiritual solace. It is not a chicken house”. I couldn’t agree with him more.
Above all, the site where the temple stands is believed to be the abode of the powerful Pelden Lhamo – one of the three supreme protector deities of Bhutan. According to oral sources, Pelden Lhamo (Sri Devi in Sanskri, and an emanation of Mahakali) came to suppress an aggressive demon, who had built a phodrang (castle) in Rukha and was terrorizing the area. The ruins of the castle is still visible today – on the hill with a giant cypress tree – at the lower end of the village. Having overcome the demon, Pelden Lhamo is said to have taken residence at the nearby site of the present temple – so that the demon does no harm again. It is, thus, a powerful place. And anecdotal evidences are abound of her presence here.
So the lama took the opportunity of my presence and called a village meeting and I joined them.
Chokila, a villager elder, reported to the gathering that the funding drive was unsuccessful. He and Lethro have been working at it for over six months and they received almost nothing. He then proposed the only option. They would collect Nu. 2000 from each household (Rukha has 20) and that would be sufficient to get a new roof – the tin CGI sheets from Tata company. The meeting agreed but the lama didn’t look impressed and he repeated that we should do a better than that. I understood what he meant and so I interjected:
“I am glad that you all have reached a consensus to contribute to the purchase of a new roof. I must congratulate you all for getting here. Let’s not forget that just 10 years back, we couldn’t have thought of anything beyond how to feed our families – and live day by day. But you all worked hard over the years and today to see you all even discussing and dreaming of big things – and to be able to come up with such an amount, I feel extremely satisfied. I am sure all others who worked for you, the people from the Tarayana Foundation, would be very proud too. So here is a small offer from my side.
We will get a better quality roofing material that has just come out in the market – the DuraRoof. It is much better but it costs double as compared to Tata. From my rough calculation it comes to around Nu. 90,000. Since you have agreed to put forward 40,000, I will offer the rest of 50,000. If it is more than that I will take care still.”
There was an instant glow on the faces of all present – especially on the Lama. Chokila, stood up again and expressed their gratitude, “We didn’t want to ask you. I told the villagers that there was no way I could ask you – after all the things you have done for us. But anyway, as always, on behalf of the community, thank you, la.”
The other villagers acknowledged. I continued:
“It’s okay. I am sure Aum Pelden Lhamo will take care of that. Even when I was totally broke, she took care of me. However, I would also like you all to call up our young salaried men and women from your respective households to contribute. I know some of them have just started their career, and most are in low-paying jobs. It is OK even if they donate Nu. 50, but I would really encourage them to donate. Not because I can’t afford what I have just promised but because I also want them to be blessed and protected by deity Pelden Lhamo. I guarantee you that if they do that, their life and their career will be stable and they will all prosper. You will all prosper. Whatever we get will be fine with me and as I said, I will cover the balance amount.
Above all, and this more important, I want you all, and them, to look at this new temple with pride. I want you all to come into this place with your head held high for the rest of your life – with the feeling that you have done your bit – your duty.”
The next day we brought down the old roof and the timber trusses and I made the final estimation of how many new sheets were required. The lama and Chokila went to Thimphu to make the purchase. They were met by his nephew, Penchay, who, together with his daughter, Phub Dem, had coordinated the donation drive among the young men and women from the village and their friends – after my appeal. I was informed that they have raised a whopping figure of Nu. 51,600 from among 27 individuals. I was surprised, but not really surprised. After all, it is deity Pelden Lhamo whom we are serving. And miracles happen.
The final bill came from the hardware stores. I had not calculated the ridging and the roofing screws (my engineering skills are getting rusty) and so it was Nu. 105,500. I paid the full mount through my mBoB – while Chokila dropped the cash collected that amounted to Nu. 88,100 at my place – after paying off the fuel charges for two Boleros.
In the following two days the new roof was up on Rukha temple. And then after two more days of fine-tuning and preparation, the lama made an appeasement ritual, Lhamo Tshoja, in honour of Pelden Lhamo. Rainbows appeared in several places, which are considered auspicious and signs shown by the deities. During the ceremony where I had to sit with the monks, as the main jindha (sponsor), in silence I took the opportunity to thank the deity for protecting us throughout the two-week period. Not a single carpenter or worker was injured. Not even a scratch. It was a miracle in itself. That was my bigger concern through out. I also prayed for an end to the on-going coronavirus crisis.
Then that evening I got a text message from a friend in the US. He wanted me to resource a short online conference for thought leaders from across the globe – where I was asked to talk about compassionate leadership, generosity and community – in these challenging times posed by the epidemic. For my presentation and a half hour participation in the global dialogue, he offered US$ 250 as donation to the temple. He knows the place well. He has been there.
Now, Nu. 105,500 – 88,100 = Nu. 17,400. And US$ 250 = Nu. 17,500.
Coincidence? May be. The Lama thinks Aum Pelden Lhamo reimbursed me.
(NB. I have many other such “coincidences” both good and bad that happened to me and the village in the course of rebuilding that temple. This is actually the smallest miracle)