Tangsibi Mani

Description

Bumthang district is well-known for its many historical and religious sites that are ancient and sacred. Many different religious and cultural festivals are performed at those sites, which have attracted many visitors from both within and outside the country.  Amongst the many festivals that are celebrated, Jakar Tshechu, Jambay Lhakhang Drup, Ura Yakchoe, Prakhar Duchhoed, Thangbi Mani, and Nimalung Tshechu are considered to be the most significant festivals in the district. Nonetheless, there is a lesser known festival called the Tangsibi Mani that is celebrated in Tangsibi, Bumthang.  Actually, the people of Tangsibi say that this Tangsibi Mani is supposedly the oldest festival performed in Bumthang; unfortunately, it is not widely known.

Origin of Mani

Mani literally means the six syllabled mantra of Chenrezig, the bodhisattva of compassion (Avalokitesthvara). According to oral sources, Tshewang and Lam Chimi Dorji, the origin of the Mani dates back to 14th Century AD. It is believed that the term Mani is derived from the vernacular language (Bumthangpa Kha), which literally means song sung during the Tse Khor (Tsepamey ritual) that is conducted from the 15th to the 17th of the first month of the Bhutanese calendar. During the event, people of different age groups circumambulate Dechenling lhakhang by singing, holding each other’s hand, and moving around the lhakhang for two or three hours for three consecutive nights.

Oral sources associate the celebration of Mani with Terton (Treasure Discoverer) Sherab Mebar who visited Bhutan from Kham, Tibet in the 14th century A.D. Legend has it that the Terton visited and blessed several places like Paro, Kurtoe, Wangdiphodrang and Tangsibi. In Tangsibi, the Terton was believed to have identified holy places with the name ending in “ling” suffix such as Gaki-ling, Tashi-ling, Kha-jeling, Samten-ling and Dechen-ling.  The informant also said that the Terton had built a temple in the centre of Dechenling village, and hence the temple came to be known as Dechen-Ling lhakhang. This temple is considered to be the first and the oldest temple in the village. When the construction was completed, the people of Tangsibi gathered for the consecration ceremony, and they circumambulated the temple by singing songs.

According to Lam Tashi, he said that since there is no written document about the origin of the Mani, it is absurd to define Mani simply as singing a song. He asserts that Mani is the mantra (Om Mani Padme Hung) of Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara), the bodhisattva of compassion. His hypothesis is that Terton Sherab Mebar might have introduced the fasting and praying ritual (Nyungye), whereby the assembled people were asked to recite the mantra for the benefits of all sentient beings.

Lungten, an elderly village woman, said that her grandparents referred to the term Mani as Sha thong (བཤགས་གདོང་), which means the death anniversary or Kuchoe (སྐུ་མཆོད།) of Terton Sherab Mebar.  Therefore, the supposition is that the people might have gathered at Dechenling temple to observe the death anniversary of Terton, and they might have recited the six syllables Mantra. She said that the mask dances and other related activities that are performed today were introduced later by his followers to observe the day.

Thus, it could be surmised that the term Mani might have derived from the recitation of the six syllables mantra of Avalokitesthvara, and not as a song that was sung during Tsekor. However, with the passage of time the recitation of Mantra might have declined, and in its place, perhaps, mask dances, Tsepamey ritual, songs and dances were organized for the wellbeing of sentient being, which have led to the promotion of culture.

Social and Cultural Functions

The Mani is celebrated in Dechenling temple by 49 households, and the 49 households are further divided into three groups—Goen-pa Tsewa, Trong-pa Tsewa and Zur-ba Tsewa. In the olden days, there were only 5 to 6 members in each group, but today the numbers in each group have increased to 12 to 15 members. The increase in the members has made it easier for the community to organize, coordinate, and serve food and drinks to monks, mask dancers, and guests in an organized fashion.

The designated groups collect the food items such as rice, butter, cheese, and other grocery items one week before the main event. During the event, every Tsewa has to offer three meals starting from early morning porridge (བཞེས་ཐུག) to the evening supper as per the roster. In addition, the groups still practice the tradition of offering local noodles (Puta) and local ale (Sinchang) to all the assembled people during the lunch hour.

The actual event begins on the 16th day with a Chibdrel procession. Monks and mask dancers come from a place called Menchugang after purifying themselves with spring water, and then they are received by the three groups at three different stations with Marchang ceremonies.

Description of Ritual Performance

Mani is performed on the 16th, 17th 18th and 19th of the first month of the Bhutanese Calendar. On the first day it is called Tsutoen, which means the beginning of the festival celebration. They perform four different types of mask dance such as:

  • The dance of Union Yama
  • The dance of the Four Stags
  • The dance of the Assembly of Garudas
  • The dance of Dakinis

On the second day, it is known as Bartoen, which means the middle day of the festival. The dances that are performed on the middle day are:

  • The dance of Garudas
  • The great Dance
  • The dance of Noblemen and the Noble women
  • Pang toe, the dance of the protector deity

The third day of the celebration of Mani is called as Nyelwaicham (དམྱལ་བའི་འཆམ), which means the dance of hell. The mask dances that are performed on the third day show the existence of hell, and how one’s action determines one’s birth, or how one’s good deeds also determine one’s reward. Furthermore, the main relics of Dechenling lhakhang are also displayed on the third day.

The celebration of the Mani ends with the performance of Tashi ritual. The ritual is mainly performed to bless with well-being of every individual gathered there, and this ritual requires every person to have a cup filled with sinchang in front of them. The lama and monks proceed with the liturgical procedure of Tashi Choga (ritual) and shower the grains or Tashi Mendo into the air. The congregation also prays for the well-being of all the sentient beings. And at the end of the ritual, people count the grains that have fallen into their cups. It is believed that if the number of grains in the cup is in odd numbers, then it is considered an auspicious sign. Thus, the ritual and the celebration of Mani come to an end with Tashi Mendo.

Informants

Lama Chimi Dorji, present lama, Tangsibi village

Lama Tashi, former lam Neten of Zhemgang dzongkhag

Tshwang, caretaker, Dechenling temple

Memi Dorji Nidup, former caretaker, Dechenling temple

Lungten, an elderly village woman

Researcher

Pema Youden, Assistant Lecturer, College of Language and Culture Studies, Royal University of Bhutan, 2019

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