Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Chath Dorji of Shingkhar

If not thousand, I am certainly several hundred years old. I have lived all my life here in Shingkhar which is some 4000 meters above the sea level. To be more precise I live in an idyllic sanctuary of bliss. People also call it Dechenling. Bhutan has eight such sanctuaries. They were all named by the visiting Tibetan saint Longchenpa in 13th century. 
Apa Chath Dorji of Shingkhar
I am Chath Dorji of Shingkhar. I am the master clown of the village. I am not sure where I descended from, but to my convenience, I consider myself nothing less than a heavenly being from Tenchok lhayuel. My role in my native place is a seasonal one. I have a major role to play in the tenth month in Bhutanese calendar when the drum of five day Shingkhar Rabney starts beating. That time I come with a group of other clowns. People think they are my friends, but they are my sons. We join locals every year. Together we all make offerings to our local deities.

When I reach Shingkhar with my boys, there is a tradition of Lama asking us to describe our journey. This is nothing new. They ask us every year. As a matter of fact, we have been telling them the same thing over and over for centuries. Here is how it goes:

Yesterday night we all slept on the tip of mount phallus,

Only to be woken up in a vaginal cave this morning.

We have come here with all the blessings of canny phallus,

So that each one of us multiply,

Live long, healthy and prosperous

This wouldn’t quench the thirst of humor hungry folks. So we would continue with all sorts of paradoxical idioms. I tell people that the Colorful hair on my head symbolizes my multi talents. Folks, especially the infertile ones, believe in my blessings. Sometime when my blessings are able to impregnate a sterile woman, I boost myself of being the brother of Lama Drukpa Kinley. As such, ladies of Shingkhar naturally like me but I tell people about my other abilities. Like wooing girls! Some ladies would melt hearing my following words:

Look at my creamy aged face.

It’s full of wrinkles.

Look at my phallus,

It’s full of wrinkles too

But Do I Still not look active, fertile and vibrant?

Apa Chath Dorji and Sons arriving for Rabney

In order to bring more laughter, we would often go beyond describing our journey. We let even our body talk! My boys play pranks and would swing their phallus; I mean the wooden phallus right below the nose of our blushing lama. By then folks would have laughed their stomach out. While others would have shed tears of mirth, some even would have peed in their panties! In course of five days, we would have conversed with our locals on every subject between the earth and the sky. I tell those naughty sons and daughters of the locality about the importance of keeping one’s parents happy. Parents are precious. Once lost can never be found. To my words, some emotional parents would sob. To restore our happy hour, I would resume my talk. To bring back their smiles, I like talking about how dark faced Ashangla is encroaching to steal a night with my wife. I am not a master comedian but I am in my own simple way, the unifying force in my village. I am neither witty nor an intelligent man, but I am sometimes an agent of change in my locality. This has been my role over many generations.

Apa Chath Dorji and Ashangla

Besides, our pranks and jokes, people have their own way of engaging in funfairs. Besides traditional mask dances and the dances of our deities, there are distinctive funfairs which are exclusive to Shingkhar community. They are Changkor, bum fight and pop corn fight.

Let me begin with Changkor. Rough translation of Changkor in English would mean "drink session". Such practices are common in many parts of Bhutan. But what is interesting about Changkor in Shingkhar is that people form group and move from one house to another drinking local brew and singing traditional songs. Mostly in the night! A round starts from one household, usually from a Naktsang and end at a house next to Naktsang. Mid way, some would fall flat, drunk and out. Some would still drag on, singing Phala Dro Dro, meaning ‘lets move on’. By the time people are done with the first round, the dawn would break. It was then, some decades before, when village had few households. Things have changed slightly now. Shingkhar have more than thirty households. Population has doubled. Therefore, completing a round in single night is now out of question. So people divide the household in such a way that none is left unvisited in five day Rabney. Today even the young ones, as young as ten form their own group and go singing and dancing. But they do not drink, they ask for the money!

Of the bum fight, folks, both young and old, male and female indulge themselves in a funfair which looks barbaric and total rustic. It is a fanciful discovery made by the people of Shingkhar. In that game, it’s usually males versus females. Except for the biological differences, no one knows why it has to be that way. They hit each with their buttocks without mercy! And throw their opponent flying into the air to the dusty ground. Each time the opponent is toppled, a roar of laughter would arise. As a sign of their surrender, some would choose to sit on the ground. But that is not a done deal. Opponents come and drag them to rise, butting would continue until the rival is completely exhausted and in some cases, half undressed! Some, they choose to climb on the tree tops to avoid the attack. The argument on the fight would ensue even after the Rabney is long over, each party accusing the other of not knowing the ethics of the game in somewhat angry but nevertheless in laughing mood.

Like bum fight, popcorn rubbing is Shingkhar’s own creation. In this game people rub each other’s forehead with popcorn. Although little is known about the correlation between the two; ‘bountiful year’ and ‘rubbing forehead’, people still scream ‘lo lek par sho’ meaning ‘may we have a bountiful year’ after each successful forehead rub. Some tough people often use coarse popcorns and try to leave a scratch mark all over forehead and face of their opponent. Although little painful, they seem to enjoy their own discovered game.

Seeing age old traditions such as these largely intact, Shingkhar displays its connection with its proud past. Despite harsh geographical conditions, Shingkhar has largely remained blessed and blissful. Back in 2013, in an attempt to reinvigorate the preservation of our rich heritage, dedicated sons and daughters of Shingkhar has even built an expensive Thongdrol of our spiritual lord Longchenpa. Today Shingkhar village has lights from hydro power. It is connected globally through telecommunication services. We have better roads, cleaner water, more sophisticated machines and more literate people. We have better cloths to wear and healthier foods to eat. These are blessings of modernization. But if not balanced carefully, these blessings could potentially engulf all our rich culture and heritage. I am fearful. But then modernization per se is not a threat. It largely depends on how we take it. Therefore, it is only through modesty and unity we can fight these ills. 

Of late, the unprecedented proliferation in the political activities has threatened the communal solidarity of Shingkhar. The politics of horse, crane and peach-bloom did no substantial good to the community but have largely created an acrimonious atmosphere of distrust and hatred among the closely knit cousins of Shingkhar. At the moment, this seems to be the biggest battle at hand. Should we lose this battle then our win elsewhere would be an irrelevant one. Rearing hairy yaks and wooly sheep are thing of past in Shingkhar. Climate change or modernization, we don’t know which one to blame yet. 

Lama Nidup Dorji of Shingkhar
But, all is not doomed here. Times are changing and so are things. If changing time has gloomier side, then here is the glee of that same changing time. Thanks to our lama, another monument has been created. Construction of a marvelous lhakhang on the Dori Rinchen hill has been completed. Today the architectural beauty of the lhakhang has awed many people. If lama can do so much, why do we then require all those professional engineers? Some people question? Lhakhang was one used by Longchenpa as a place to meditate, write and relax. Some people believe that certain portions of Longchen Zoed-den were written here. 

 Dori Rinchen Goenpa of Shingkhar

Now with changing time, I am afraid that some people might find my phallic talks lot vulgar and meaningless. I remain fully aware about my pranks becoming obsolete and not so entertaining, but it is my sincere prayer that I find newer jokes and sillier pranks every year and bring lot more laughter to the folks of Shingkhar. I tell my folks that minor differences should not rattle the virtue and the harmony of locality. I hope they take my words. It’s my sincere wish that Rabney and Shingkhar flourish till eternity. Let time change anything but not the happiness and the innocence of humor loving Shingkhar.

Shingkhar Dechenling


  1. Great post...thanks for the information la....

  2. Great post sir, interesting facts about shingkhar and Mr. Chath.


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