Athang Rukha – Wangdue. When the Rukhaps asked me to help them (re)build the temple at the site believed to be the abode of Palden Lhamo I had no choice but to accept. (As to why is another story for another time).
It was 2009, and when I looked around and toured the forested area, I thought, why not even a religious festival. Afterall, this regionel does not even seem to have received any form of Dharma (I later learnt that it did but because of remoteness, Shamanism prevailed again).
I had, of course, not the slightest of idea as to what really goes behind the religious dances. All I know is the sacred mask dances are sacred and they mimic the realm of Gods. And the masks are real deities bestowing the real blessings. And I wanted to cheery-top this region as a spiritual paradise, over its stunning natural beauty and a virgin territory. Many spiritual masters in the past conducted sacred mask dances as the final ceremony in the propagation of dharma – especially in Vajrayana Buddhism.
In 2020, I shared my vision with the newly-appointed resident Lama, Ugyen Tshering. He was bit shocked by my religious cluelessness but was kind to say it could be done. He knew the head dancer (chhampoen) of Gangtey Shedra.
Four months back when I approached His Holiness Gangtey Trulku Rimpoche with my wild request, which meant the monk-dancers had to be released from Gangtey Shedra, Rimpoche was bit surprised by my innocent request. I proposed that the sacred dances would be in conjuction with the consecration of the newly-built community tshokhang. He didn’t seem impressed and didn’t say a word on it.
I reached out to him again three months later during his short visit to Thimphu. His Holiness was still undecided but said he would look into it.
Again a week back I traced Rimpoche at his remote Winter residence in Sha Chitokha, in upper Wangdue.
“Oh! It is you again,” sighed His Holiness.
I gave a mischevious smile. 😁😁😁
“We can give a try. A few numbers this time,” Rimpoche told me. “Those that can be taken out,” He added.
I was so elated that I could barely feel my feet on the ground. I felt as if I was flying from Chitokha to Wangdue to Rukha, where I have been posted for a month to personally oversee the preparation.
Moral of the story: sacred dances are very sacred and you just can’t take them anywhere, and do what you like.
Anyway, His Holiness and 49 monks led by three khenpos (and not one) of the highest order first conducted a long ritual in the temple, carried out the invocation of the protector deity Palden Lhamo, sanctified the ground, and did an elaborate ceremony just to prepare the ground.
Now I undertstand why everyone was less excited than me. My apologies.
Nonetheless, my eternal gratitude for helping me fulfil a dream goes to Gangtey Trulku. And then to Khandrola for consenting to let the young Thuksey Yangsey travel to such remote and inhospitable area. His presence made the occasion special and more sacred.
And finally to the khenpos and monks – for the hard work that goes behind unseen. They conducted the ceremonies and danced during the day, and at night prepare the ritual cakes, and rehearsed the dances.
May their deeds bring peace and prosperity in the region, and in the whole country.
What next? May be an annual festival would be difficult for this humble valley. Perhaps to make to every three years and then to commemorate this visit of the Gangtey Rimpoche and Thuksey Yangsey by organising a Baza Guru Dungdrub (billion chants of Baza Guru mantra) would be best as the way forward.