Gunglha

Description

Gung Lha is a bon ritual, which involves Kartshog or white offerings consisting of feast, libation and purification rituals to Lha O-lde gung rgyal, mountain and local deities.  The ritual does not require animal sacrifice, which confirms Gunglha ritual as Bonkar practice. This bon practice dates back before the advent of Buddhism in Bhutan, and the four households in Kheng Buli still revere and practice this ritual. The four households consider this bon ritual as an age-old ritual tradition that their ancestors practiced to bring good health and prosperity. Gung Lha literally means God of the Sky (Gung means Sky, Lha means God). This means invoking the god of sky O-lde gung rgyal as their savior and protector.

History

According to a bon text (བོན་གྱི་ལྷ་རབས), in the immemorial times, the human world had no king (མི་ལུ་དཔོན་མེད), the food lacked nutrition (ཟས་ལུ་བཅུད་མེད), there was no essence of prosperity (ནོར་ལུ་གཡང་མེད), and the clothes lacked warmth (གོས་ལུ་དྲོད་མེད). A girl named Karma Yulee ascended to heaven and requested the gods to descend to the human world to rule them, to bring nutrition in the food, to bring the essence of prosperity, and to bring warmth in the clothes.

As per Karma Yulee’s request, the gods cast a dice to choose a king for the people, and the dice favored Lha O-lde gung rgyal. The gods appointed him as the king of the people, but Lha O-lde gung rgyal refused to come down to the human world because he told Karma Yulee that the human world is full of poison, conflict, and defilements from birth and death. He said that people are only engaged in making enemies, robbing people, and using weapons to harm one another.

Karma Yulee again entreated Lha O-lde gung rgyal to have compassion on the human beings because human beings are caught in the endless cycle of the sufferings of birth and death, and in addition, evils spirits and demonic forces harm them. She implored that there is purification to cleanse impurities, cure for poison, and ritual to dispel curses from enemies. After repeated appeals, finally, Lha O-lde gung rgyal agreed to descend to the human world on the condition that he is furnished with tools that are required in the human world. His father, mother and his uncle gifted him with a planer, a frying pan, a millstone, a cask, a plough, a yoke, and fabrics, which he brought down to the human world. Because Lha O-lde gung rgyal is believed to have descended with all those tools, these implements are displayed during the rituals and offerings.

The Bon text states that heavenly beings and other three hundred sixty mountain deities accompanied Lha O-lde gung rgyal, and together, they journeyed from Nam Rimpa Chusum (sky of thirteen staircases) down to the human world. He and his entourage journeyed through the realms of Sun, Moon, Star, Rainbow, Clouds, Mount Meru, Snow-capped Mountains and the Lotus land (Pelmoi’ Thang). Kings, gods, and goddesses of each of those realms asked him where he was going. Lha O-lde gung rgyal replied that he was going to rule the people (མིའི་དཔོན་ལ་འགྲོ), to bless their food (ཟས་ཀྱི་བཅུད་དུ་འགྲོ), to bring warmth to their clothes (གོས་ཀྱི་དྲོད་དུ་འགྲོ), and to bring the essence of prosperity to the people (ནོར་གྱི་གཡང་དུ་འགྲོ). The kings of each of those realms sent a message to receive Lha  O-lde gung rgyal with much celebration, to pitch a tent, to spread rugs in his honour, and to  offer Sing Chang (ale) on the right hand and Ara (brewed alcohol) on the left hand, and make libation in the front.

Finally, when he descended at Yarlung Tsangpo, the people asked him where he was going. Lha O-lde gung rgyal replied that he has come to rule the human world, bring nutrition in the food, bring warmth in the clothes, and to bring the essence of prosperity. They received Lha O-lde gung rgyal and his entourage with so much flourish and celebration, Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche performed the purification and cleansing ritual by burning incenses. He pitched tents, spread rugs in his honour, made offerings of Singchang (ale) on the right hand, Ara (brewed alcohol) on the left hand, and made libation in the front. With much joy and happiness, people made offerings and worshipped Lha O-lde gung rgyal. The god blessed them (མི་དང་ལྷ་རུ་མཇལ), the food had nutrition in it (ཟས་དང་བཅུད་དུ་མཇལ), warmth in the clothes (གོས་དང་དྲོད་དུ་མཇལ), there was essence of prosperity (ནོར་དང་གཡང་དུ་མཇལ), and fertility in the soil (ས་དང་གཏེར་དུ་མཇལ). From then onwards, the people worshipped and invoked Lha O-lde gung rgyal, and that is how the people in Kheng Buli came to practice this ritual.

According to oral tradition, the origin of the offering to Gunglha in Kheng Buli dates back to Buli Ponpo “the local chieftain of Kheng Buli”.  He traveled from Tibet along with his two brothers Khongwog and Durmen, and settled at Zurnai in Bumthang. One day, while they were chasing wild boars, three brothers reached an uninhabited place of Buli. From the cliff of Chakla Drak, they saw many wild boars in the valley. The elder brother discussed with his two brothers and said that whoever manages to kill a wild boar, he will be the lord of Buli. When the three brothers shot an arrow from the cliff of Chakla Drak, the younger brother Maktse hit a wild boar with his arrow. Hence, he became the lord of Buli, and later the people referred to him as Buli Ponpo. He ruled Buli, brought people from nearby places like chakar, Phantala, Subrang, and Mangde to work under him, which spread the descendants of Kheng Buli. He also introduced the offerings to Gunglha and Buli Menmo.

However, Aum Sangay Peldon has a different narrative about the Gunglha offering. She said that Trongtep “people who had settled above the village” were the first ones to introduce this offering to god. Later, the descendants of Buli Ponpa, Aum Yeshi Yangzom, Gonphaipa (དགོན་ཕས་པ་) Aum Ngyunteymo, and Langpa (གླང་པ) Aum Sonam Yangki followed this tradition.

Social and Cultural Significance

One month before the actual Gunglha offerings, the host prepares the libation, from either rice, or wheat, to offer to Lha O-lde gung rgyal.  It is believed that preparations and offerings are to be made in the absence of defilements of birth and death in the house, or in the community. One day before the actual offering, the organizer prepares prayer flags from a pine tree with three branches in honour of Lha O-lde gung rgyal

On the day of the actual event, the host cleans the house early in the morning, prepares feast offerings of rice and vegetables to invoke and receive Lha O-lde gung rgyal from Nam Rimpa Chusum. The host makes an altar and uses a white scarf to represent a white tent, spreads a bamboo mat, prepares the altar with an effigy of Lha O-lde gung rgyal riding a horse and an effigy of Karma Yulee placed slightly in the front and on the right of Lha to symbolize the reception of Lha to the human world. In addition, eight tormas are placed around the two effigies at certain interval to represent his entourage. Singchang is offered on the right side and ara on the left hand of the effigy, and Marchang is offered in the middle.  Varieties of feast offerings of vegetables, flowers, butter lamp, butter, cheese, and milk are prepared. However, meat products and mushrooms are excluded from the feast offering. Furthermore, all kinds of tools and weapons such as spear, arrow, plough, yoke, handloom, axe, sickle, and spade are displayed next to the altar.

At sunrise, the organizer hoists two prayer flags with a red scarf in the name of father god (Pho Lha) and a white scarf for Lha O-lde gung rgyal on the edge of the roof where the main beam of the house is exposed. Together with the flag, thirteen wicks are hanged on the branches as a symbol of Nam Rimpa Chusum, and a five-colored thread (white, yellow, red, green and black) is attached to the prayer flag, which represents the path that Lha undertook to descend to the human realm. The lay monk stretches the five-coloured thread all the way into the altar room, and is hung around the neck of Lha O-lde gung rgyal’s horse (effigy) as a symbol of receiving lha inside the house.

After completing all the preparation for the actual day, the lay monk initiates the offerings of Gunglha and he wraps a white scarf on his forehead, wears a white kabney, sits on the mat facing the altar, and then begins the recitation of the Bon text accompanied by the beat of the drum. The bon text mainly covers the origin of the universe, Nam Rimpa Chusum, descent of Lha O-lde gung rgyal to the human world, and subsequently to the host’s house. The lay monk who recites the Bon text reaches a point where the text indicates that the Lha has reached the threshold of the house, the lay monk showers the grains into the sky. Then, he begins the marchang offerings to the lha, and in between the lay monk mentions the ages of all the members in that household, propitiates the lha to bless the household with good life, prosperity, name and fame, and to protect the household members from evil and demonic forces.

After that, the five-colored thread is burned at the door way of the house with a butter lamp, and from the five colored thread, if the black thread is longer, it is believed that the evil spirits will harm the members of the household. Hence, the family members will have to perform rituals to dispel the evil spirits. And on the other hand, if the white, red and green thread are longer than the black thread, it is believed that the lha, mountain deities and the Menmo “the deity of lake” are pleased and happy, hence no misfortunes will fall on the family members.

Respectively, the lay monk who recites the bon text lights the butter lamps in the altar and carries the effigy of Lha O-lde gung rgyal, feast offerings, milk, and libation onto the roof of the house. A few men help to carry the effigy and other offerings on the rooftop, and they place the effigy next to the prayer flag of Lha O-lde gung rgyal.  When the lay monk continues with the recitation of the bon text, the men, who helped him, make offerings to the ten directions of the mountains and the local deities.

The actual ceremony and the offerings take around 2-3 hours, and the host family serves meals and offerings to the people who have come to witness the rituals.

Belief System

The villagers have a strong faith in the Lha. The conviction is that when people worship and make offerings to Lha O-lde gung rgyal, they will be blessed with good fortune, material wellbeing, longevity, and prosperity. However, if they do not make offerings on time, the family members and their relatives will suffer from minor sicknesses like headache, cough, joint pain, loss of appetite, and sore eyes

Moreover, pregnant women and their husbands do not participate in the celebration and offering because of the belief that the women will give birth to disabled children. They stay away during the celebration.

Conclusion

Although, only four households actually perform Gunglha in their houses, everybody in the community makes prayers and offerings to Lha O-lde gung rgyal. All 94 households invoke lha O-lde gung rgyal in the 10th month of the 15th day of Buli Chodpa for the well-being of the people in the community. All the preparation and offerings must be in the absence of defilements of birth and death in the community. At the time of the offerings, relatives from far and near come to offer their prayers and worship the god. They participate in the ritual with much faith and devotion to the Lha O-lde gung rgyal revering it as the deity invoked by their ancestors. They believe that offering must continue from generation to generation for the well-being and prosperity of all the family members and the people in the community.

Reference

Anonymous. (no date). bon gyi lha rabs

Informants

Phuntsho Dhendup, 58, Kheng Buli

Sangay Peldon, Kheng Buli

Thruchung  , Kheng Buli

Researcher

Tshering Dema, Associate Lecturer, CLCS Taktse, Royal University of Bhutan, 2019