Tali Lhakhang / Tali Sergi Lhakhang

Description

Tali lhakhang (temple) is located in Tali, Nangkor gewog, Zhemgang district.  Tali village is connected by a feeder road that branches off the Zhemgang-Gelephu highway at Dakpai.   Buli is the last village at the end of the feeder road.  It takes approximately two hours by car from Zhemgang town to reach the village.

The temple lies at the end of a cluster of few houses on a hill top, a few meters below is the feeder road which leads to Buli. It is an ordinary two-storey house built of mud and stones beside the village pathway.

History

According to oral sources, Terton Pema Lingpa’s (the treasure discoverer) son Peling Thukse Dawa Gyeltshen (1499-1587) laid the foundation of the present-day Tali lhakhang by constructing a small one-storey lhakhang. Thukse Dawa is “a prominent Bhutanese Nyingma lama, he was believed to be an emanation of Hayagrīva and a reincarnation of the Buddha’s disciple Śāriputra and of Indrabhuti” (Rigzin, 2011). He is believed to have come from Bumthang and resided in Changlochen, a place located few meters away from where the lhakhang is situated. The exact date of the construction of the lhakhang is unknown. Rigzin (2011) states that Thukse Dawa was born in 1499 and passed into nirvana in 1587. Furthermore, Thukse Dawa Gyeltshen is said to have visited Tali and had children from a local wife around that time period. Although details of all his children are undocumented and difficult to trace, his first son of the seven children is believed to be born in 1564 (Dorji, n.d.). Therefore, it could be assumed that the lhakhang may have been constructed sometime in the mid sixteenth century.

The oral source said that the lama gave blessings to the locals at the place called Wangthang, a name that is believed to have stemmed from the event of giving blessing to the people of the village (wang refers to blessing and thang refers to an open ground). The place is also known by the name Wangdar, which means pervasion of blessing (wang means blessing and dar means spread). This resonates with Dorji’s assertion that “Thukse visited Kheng Buli and Tali with an intent to build a temple in Tali. On the day of settling on the temple’s site, he gave the public empowerment of long life…” (n.d.).

It is also believed that the lama, while leaving the village on a horse, left the footprints of his horse. Hence, the village is called Tali, which translates to horse (Ta) left behind (Lue), implying the footprint of horse that was left behind.

Sometime in 1965, upon the request of the locals, geshe Pema Thinley, one of the few Buddhist masters with an accomplished academic degree then, renovated the lhakhang and converted the one-storey lhakhang into a two-storey lhakhang. It was reported that the geshe also intended to reside where Peling Thukse Dawa had previously resided; however, the geshe’s master Ponlop Khen Rimpoche is believed to have advised him to move the residence to where Tali Dratshang stands today. The dratshang is located on the slope of a mountain directly opposite to Tali lhakhang.

The lhakhang is also known in the texts as Tali Sergi Lhakhang owing to its location. The village of Tali sits along a ridge (sirjue) of a mountain/hill, and it is believed that constructing houses along ridges is ominous since ghosts and other demi-gods are believed to use such features as their path; when they come in contact with humans, it is believed that humans are inflicted with illnesses. There were houses built along the ridge and the villagers seem to have faced many difficulties in the past. According to T. Chophel (personal communication, March 31, 2017), “when I was about 5 or 6, people would hardly walk by this path, even in the daytime. People were scared even during the day, and some would even have marks of soenday (witches).” Hence, to ward off all those evil forces from the area and to protect the village community, Peling Thugsey Dawa is said to have built the first temple in the village. The oral source said, “There initially used to be three lhakhangs along this ridge: one at the top of the ridge called the Toe lahkhang (top/upper); another in the middle called the Bar lhakhang (middle); and the last one at the end of the ridge called Julhakhang (end/lower).” (T. Chophel, personal communication, March 31, 2017). The informants said that things have improved with visits from different lamas and establishment of various religious structures in the locality.

Architecture and Artwork

The temple is an ordinary-looking two-storey structure nestled towards the end of the village, making it difficult for people to distinguish it from the other houses in terms of structure. However, the paintings on its outer walls, small prayer wheels along some of its walls and a boundary wall made of stones make it distinctive. The temple has a small courtyard and a shed just next to it that used to function as the kitchen.

It was in the years 1965-1966 that the temple saw a major revamping of its entire structure. Upon request and invitation from the locals, geshe Pema Thinley built a two-storey structure on the already existing one-storey temple. One local known as Dotila (later renamed Tashi Wangdi by the geshe) coordinated the renovation work. Most of the artefacts from the previous temple were either worn out, or irretrievable. The consecration ceremony of the renovated lhakhang was done in 1968.

The first floor essentially is the temple, and is connected to the ground by a veranda and a set of wooden stairs. It houses the statues of the female protective deity Pelden Lhamo (Maha Kali/Sri devi) and the lion-faced deity Sengdongma (also known as Singhamukha in Sanskrit) with the government’s seal on both of them.

Upon entry, one can see the paintings (clock-wise) of Zhithro Lhatshog (the assembly of the peaceful and wrathful deities), Kuenkhen Longchen Rabjampa (14th c.) (also known as Longchenpa), Peling Thugsey Dawa (the heart-son of the treasure discoverer Terton Pema Lingpa), Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, Guru Tshengay (the eight manifestation of Guru Padmasambhava); Drubchen Thangthong Gyalpo (15th c, who is known to have introduced the iron bridges in the country), Zhiwai Lhatshog (the assembly of the peaceful deities), and Chukchi Zhey gi Kilkhor (the mandala of the manifestations of Avalokiteshvara).

In the altar, which is to the right of the entrance, has the statues of Chukchi Zhey, the eleven-faced Avalokiteshvara (Ashi Wangmo, the second King’s sister is believed to have sent the statue along with the altar); Tsheringma Gangzug, the deity of longevity; Peling Thugsey Dawa, the founder of the temple; Zhadrung Ngawang Namgyel; Guru Pema Jungney (one of the manifestations of Guru Padmasambhava); the Historical Buddha, Sangay Shakya Thupa; Chenrezig ChhaZhipa, Avalokiteshvara with four hands; and Tselha Namsum, the three deities of long life—Tshepamey (Amitayus), Drolkar (White Tara), and Namgyalma (Namjong).

Along with the statues of the female protective deity Pelden Lhamo (Maha Kali) and the lion-faced deity Sengdongma, the temple is believed to be the seat of the local deities Tshen Drakpa Gyeltshen and Buli Menmo, the powerful deity of the Buli lake.

The ground floor is used during the large gatherings to say prayers and to offer meals to the monks.

Social and Cultural Functions

The temple is revered by the village community and many rituals are also performed in the temple. The village community sponsors most of the rituals.

  • In the 1st month of the Bhutanese calendar, from the 13th-16thday, a ritual called Zhingdrub is carried out. The dates vary from year to year.
  • A ritual called Nyungne Chanyi is also conducted, which depends on the availability of a lama/abbot. The ritual(s) is conducted to say prayers for oneself and the community. An offering to the local deities is also made on the final day. Locals contribute in cash and kind for the ritual.
  • Prachula, a three-day ritual, is conducted on the 8th, 9thand 10th day of the 2nd month of the Bhutanese calendar. Although Prachula means monkey (Pra) prayer or offering (Chula) in the local language. The informants said that Prachula, the monkey refers to Guru Padmasambhava (or the year of his birth) since he was born in the monkey year. Therefore, it is the offering made to Guru Padmasambhava, and not to monkeys. During this three-day ritual, the locals dig up wild potatoes on the 8th day, thoroughly clean their houses on the 9th, and make offering and say prayers on the 10th. The offering has to be done in the morning. The lamas distribute the tshog (food offering) to the individual households, who in turn take the tshog to various temples or sacred places in the locality. Only vegetables and dairy products are used for the tshog. Locals believe that the use of alcohol and meat products will make weeds grow in the farms and paddy fields. A separate tshog is prepared to offer to the Lu, the local earth deity.
  • The Choedpa is conducted on the15thday of the 4th month of the Bhutanese calendar. It is a ritual which evolved from the ritual called Lha Bon, referred to as Lha Soel in olden times. Lha means deity and Bon means the act of calling. This ritual, as the name suggests, invokes (calls) the local deity and ushers it from its Lhabrang (abode) to the village to bless the residents and their farm produce. The lay practitioners perform the ritual in their houses, while the Lha Bonpo (the priest who invokes and invites the deity) goes to the deity’s abode and invokes and invites the deity to the village. Simultaneously, the residents prepare the offerings – one specialty here is colouring the eggs red for the offering. The ritual is essentially a gesture of thanking for the farm produce, and offering a part of it to the deity. Strict adherence to Driglam Namzha, Bhutanese etiquette, is required here; failure to do so is believed to invite dire repercussions to the defaulters.
  • Drukpa Tshe Zhi is observed on the 4thday of the 6th month to celebrate the deeds of the Buddha.
  • Another ritual, of Bon character, called Kharam, which is not practiced anymore, used to be conducted on the 29th day of the 6th month to ward off any evil spells/curses. People cleared the roads (footpaths, tracks for animals) in and around the village on the 27th and the 28th This practice ceased owing to the absence of a Bonpo (the priest who invokes the deities).
  • Rituals called Bumgi Choedpa & Busgi Choedpa are conducted on the 10th day of the 7th month of the Bhutanese calendar. This is a ritual coordinated/sponsored by women and men alternately every year. The reason for such separate coordination is unknown. This was a relatively new ritual introduced around two decades ago. The informants just said that “it was a tradition that has been passed down.”
  • The Choedpa ritual is again conducted on the 15th day of the 8th It is said that more ritual cakes are made at this time, so that volunteers who sponsor the ritual are acknowledged by giving them the ritual cakes.
  • The main ritual of the Kheng region, also called Choedpa, is conducted on the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th day of the 10th This is done to celebrate the bountiful produce, thank the deities for their blessings, and to ask for forgiveness for all the sins committed while working in the farms throughout the year. On the 16th day, Changkor is performed. People go around the village visiting houses, and the hosts offer alcohol (once during entrance and once again at exit) to mark the end of the festival. Three dances take place at each house and the process lasts the entire night. On the 17th day, it is celebrated with archery match, drinks, and food.
  • A seven-day Kanjur recitation is conducted in the 11th The dates for this ritual vary every year. It is conducted by about one hundred monks. The villagers donate money to fund this ritual. This is done for the wellbeing of the villagers, government, leaders, the dead and the living.
  • Other rituals common to the whole country include the Zhabdrung Kuchoe observed on 10th day of the 3rd month to mark the death anniversary of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, Tenda Tshechu observed on the 10th day of the 5th month of the Bhutanese calendar and Lhabab Duechen, the descending day of Lord Buddha, is observed on the 22nd day of the 9th Bhutanese month.

The caretaker is selected from the villagers on a voluntary basis, although there is no specific tenure. Ideally, it has to be someone with a good knowledge of religion and religious activities. The handing-taking over of the temple is done in the presence of a representative from the dratshang, the gewog, and the villagers.

Informant

Tashi Chophel, caretaker, Tali lhakhang

Reference

Dorji, L. (2005).  Religious life and history of the emanated heart-son Thukse Dawa Gyeltshen. Journal of Bhutan studies 13. Retrieved from: http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/jbs/pdf/JBS_13_04.pdf

Rigzin, K. (2011). The first Thukse Dawa Gyeltshen. The treasury of lives. Retrieved from: http://treasuryoflives.org/biographies/view/Dawa-Gyeltsen/4372

 

Researcher 

Choney Dorji, Asst. Lecturer, College of Language and Culture Studies, Taktse, Trongsa, Royal University of Bhutan, 2017.

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