The deity’s stove

Salading Peak, 4,350m, central Bhutan – Three boulders, believed to be Aap Shatsi’s stove, stand today on the peak of Salading among the Black Mountains.

The valley of Rukha and Athang, and the lower valley of Phobjikha, hold a mountain deity called Aap Shatsi, as one of the deities that they have to appease – on an annual basis.

This peak of the mountain towards the south of Phobjikha is believed to be his abode. It is a four-day journey on foot from Rukha to this place.

Since two years, however, the people of Rukha don’t have to do this ardous journey. The image of the deity has been painted inside the sacred chambers in Rukha Lhakhang. The locals appease the deity in the community temple itself. So far, Aap Shatsi has not complained. I hope he continues to accept the offer from there.

The Black Mountains range in central Bhutan holds many untold stories. It hosts the powerful mountain deity, Jowo Durshing (last photo), who is revered by the indigenous communities of Monpa and the Oleps, plus by some villages in Trongsa and Zhemgang.

The highest peak in this area, Durshing Gang, is believed to be the abode of the deity. In Lhoi Choejung, a history book by Lopen Pemala, this peak is mentioned as the first thing to emerge from the ocean as the Indian Subcontinent landmass collided with the Asian tectonic plate.

During the medieaval period, the Black Mountain area was a destination for Tibetan monks and medicine men looking for the sacred places blessed by Guru Rimpoche, and for the medicinal plants respectively.

A nation’s identity is the story it tells itself, so argued the British cultural studies scholar, Stuart Hall. Stories of deities and denizens, of magical placed and medicinal herbs, and of sacred sites and sanctuaries make this nation called Bhutan. This is us – our identity. We lose these stories, we lose our identity.

NB – At the Fourth International Conference on Vajrayana Buddhism in Thimphu, Oct 2-4, I spoke on the role of the deities in the social and communal life of the Bhutan and on the formation of national identity of the Bhutanese

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