The Legend of Palden Lhamo in Rukha

The lower hillock of Rukha is shrouded in mystery and in fear. Since time unknown, no one dared enter that area. Whoever defied it and even stepped in to collect few twigs would fall sick. When cows accidentally strayed there, the locals would quickly and quietly get them out without making a whispering sound. Below the hillock is the main footpath leading to the village. People taking the route would stop talking or whistling – and instead walked in silence.

Legend has it that, in the distant past, there once stood a Dzong (castle-fortress) where a demon King ruled the region – and beyond. The evil king had servants who would capture young children and women to be eaten alive. Every now and then the Khandroms (dakini) would descend from Tushita heaven and would challenge to a game of dice. If the Khandroms won, a child would be set free for each game. If not, the fate was clear. Eventually, the powerful Tantric deity Palden Lhamo came around and demolished everything, before making the upper hill of the village as her abode. A temple in her honour now stand there. A temple I helped rebuild together with the locals.

No people ventured into this hillock until very recently, when the Rukha Lama Ugyen Tshering led to explore the forested area. According to some old people, there were ruins of mud walls and stone slabs of the castle, which they saw when they went in to find their cattle there. And then, they had this story and the legend that survive to this day.

In the many years that I have been to Rukha (my first visit was in 2007) I was not allowed to enter the area. I complied. I have always respecting the local norms and beliefs, wherever I went.

Recently, two women following the advice of the Lama (and with his spiritual protections), and with the directions and descriptions from the old people, spent three days looking for the stone slab dice board. They finally found it. The stone slab is at the level of the ground but many old people remember seeing standing higher – at least three feet above the ground. The legend says that if and when the slab disappears into the ground, the world would end.

During this visit I was invited to take a look at the slab. It is hidden deep in the jungle. They asked me if I could “see” anything. Meaning to interpret from my scientific trainings. There are chessboard patterns on the slab. However, since I am not trained in archeology or Khandroma dahyig (dakinis’ scripts), I had no idea what the stone slab was.

But it doesn’t matter. Why do I need to invent another theory – or a story. I would rather like to believe that a demon King and his castle once stood here. Going by the ruins, there was a castle here. I would like to believe that the dakinis came and played dice with the demon-servants and rescued many children and women – and set them free.

I would like to believe that deity, Palden Lhamo, ultimately descended here, defeated the demons, destroyed the castle, and set all the children free. I believe she established her abode in the adjoining hill, where the current temple now stands – and which we rebuilt after it was destroyed somewhere in the 1940s.

This is their story. This is their land. This is their past. This is who they are.

4 thoughts on “The Legend of Palden Lhamo in Rukha

  1. Doctor, I believe Athang Rukha can be ideal eco-cultural tourism destination because of rich environment & cultural significance—Paden Lhamo’s abode.

    Considering the seasonal pattern, early Spring, Autumn & winter can be best time to visit.

    Thank you for unveiling this sacred valley.


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