If the Sheep year is not good, finding choeps to conduct rituals is difficult

Ritual: It is seven in the morning in Jungshina, Thimphu.  Sonam Deki, 53, has duties to assign to her husband, son, and son-in-law.  They will have to go to Babesa, Taba and Changidaphu to pick up monks and gomchens (lay monks).

Rituals have to be performed, whether one is able to get choeps (religious practitioners) or not, whatever the purpose of conducting rituals.  For Sonam Deki, it is the tradition of conducting important rituals that she must keep alive.  It has happened in her house since she was a little girl.

Getting choeps is becoming increasingly difficult in a place like Thimphu.  So, Sonam Deki’s husband is going to Babesa, son to Taba and her son-in-law to Changidaphu, all to get choeps on time.

Sonam had no trouble finding choeps.  But that was some years ago.  She could bring in a set of choeps from Hongtsho.  Not anymore.

“It’s very difficult these days. There aren’t many choeps. I would be lucky if I can get about five of them,” said Sonam.

Monks from the zhung dratshang (central monastic body) are available only on weekends.  And with rituals having to follow a zakar (astrology) most rituals are organised on the same day making it more difficult to arrange choeps.

The datho (astrology) recommended Kinley, a mother of two some detailed preventive rituals as the Sheep year is bad for her. Kinley had to wait for more than a month to perform the ritual. Putting six monks and a tsip together was the biggest challenge. And there were not many good days to conduct rituals according to the zakar. “What will people who do not have contacts do?” said Kinley who is from Thimphu.

It is fairly easier for those who have contacts in the monk body or in the area they live. Given the dire situation, some monks have formed groups to help both those in need and themselves.

In the Babesa area, there is group of experienced retired monks who makes it a point to make himself available to perform rituals that the people of the community need.  Initiated by Gyem Tshering, a caretaker of Nyzergang lhakhang.  The lhakhang has 13 monks, including three retired lams, and an astrologer.  They are the only monks, who respond to the religious needs of people from Khasadrapchu to Langjophaka.

“When the zakar is good, at least two to three come looking for our service in a week,” he said.

Monks of Atiling in Babesa, who are graduates of Namdrolling Buddhist Institute in Mysore, India, also perform rituals for Thimphu residents, as and when they are invited to do so. Atiling has 25 monks, who go to perform rituals at different Thimphu households almost everyday.

Lam Ugyen Wangchuk of Atiling said that it was convenient for the residents to pick up all the monks from one location. Atiling monks perform rimdos at their place for Thimphu residents who do not have space or means to conduct rituals at home.

Lam Ugyen Wangchuk was alone at Atiling when Kuensel visited. All the monks had gone to perform rimdo. “We are kept busy almost everyday. We either perform here or go to the patrons,” he said.

In the city, at Changidaphu, Lam Choki Wangchuk has formed a tshogpa to address acute shortage of choeps. The Lagar Tshogpa with 30 monks has a branch in Olakha to cater to the ever expanding urban population.

By Dechen Tshomo