Winter at Haa is known not only for being terribly cold. It is also a season of festivals and annual rituals. In other parts of the word, people await their annual holiday to take a break from their work. For Haaps residing in other parts of the country, it is time to travel home for holy reasons, if not for holiday. All the festivities for the year commences with the celebration of a popular event known as “Bho-Yak”. Now the date has been fixed on the 7th day of the 9th month of the Bhutanese calander.
“Bho-Yak” also popularly celebrated as ‘Ap Chundu’s’ birthday is an annual event held towards the end of year. Regarded as a manifestation of the wrathful ‘Chana-dorji’ (skt:Vajrapani), Ap Chundu is not just localized to Haa district but he is an important deity of the country itself.
The festival begins at Lhakhang Karpo- one of the popular citadels of the deity- with prayer recitation by the monastic body as early as 2.30 AM. After the prayer at around 5.30 AM, by a ritual act of visualization, Ap Chundu is then led to mount on a fully decorated horse. An invisible figure riding a visible horse, which is exclusively raised for the purpose. The only horse with the authority to graze in the forest of its liking within the Dzongkhag.
Led in a traditional ‘Chipdrel’ procession with sound of drums and bells and singing the melodious traditional songs of praises and wishes for well-beings of all sentient beings, Ap Chundu is then ushered to the place where the actual event for the day is held- ‘Janka-kha’ at upper valley of Haa.
Legend has it that a battle was fought and a resounding victory secured from the enemies across the border with the help of Ap Chundu in this place and hence the celebration is to honour the deity.
Stopping at around 6 different places on the way for traditional ‘Marchang Ceremony’ (Alcohol-offering ceremony), the procession takes around 4 hours, making it the longest Chipdrel processions, perhaps in the country. Four long hours of walk stopped occasionally by persuasive hosts with delicious alcoholic beverages of local brew, I wonder if a drink-lover would ever make it to the final destination.
The procession is then greeted by a cheerful crowd dressed in their best colorful attire at Jankakha. They had come to attend the festival.
I asked an old lady if she could remember when it all began.
All that she could say was,
“I remember coming here as a child and looking forward to the prediction of the ‘pow’- oracle.”
It is hard to believe but I was told that the oracle had predicted the recent earthquake during the last event.
Call it superstitions or coincidence! It is believed to be Ap Chundu’s words. And like a good doctor, who prescribes medicine for the illness, the oracle also offers a set of ‘Dhog-Thap’ (remedy) to negate the ill effects of the bad predictions. With the influence of modernization, the skeptics are on the rise. But there are some, who have been taking his word seriously.
For time immemorial, people have been eagerly celebrating the event. Some for fun, some out of curiosity while others out of sheer faith in him.
It is also comforting to know that as long as there are some who takes his words seriously and religiously follows up on the remedy as suggested, rest of us can afford to be anything but a believer. If performed appropriately with great faith, the merit thus generated from the remedy has the power to negate the ill-effects for all.
For this year, upper valley of Haa has an extra reason to celebrate the event. Having experienced a terrible earthquake of unprecedented scale and damage, people are reminded of how close they came to death during the disaster. For them, it is celebration of their life’s victory over death.
Superstitions or Co-incidence! Hard to say!
But I am Happy that even with disaster of such magnitude that struck right through their homes, no lives were claimed.
Wishing you a Warm and happy winter!