Art: As Buddha attained enlightenment in Bodhgaya, India, in Tibet’s Yarlung village, Drag Singmo (a deity residing on cliff) and Triwu Jangchubsempa (Bodhisattva in the form of monkey) had six children.

It is believed that the people of Merak and Sakteng in Trashigang descended from one of the children.  Known as brokpas, the nomadic community before migrating to Merak and Sakteng were living at Yamarong village in Tibet.

A King Dreba-yabu, who was known for his evil deeds, ruled their village. King Dreba-yabu’s palace never received direct sunlight, as the high peak on the eastern side of the palace blocked the light.  One day, the king ordered his subjects to blunt the peak.

A female protective deity of the village, Aum Jumo, heard about the harsh punishment put on the people.  She transformed into a woman with a baby on her back and visited the site where people were trying to cut the peak.

As if she was speaking to the child on her back, she said, “Beheading the king would be easier than cutting the mountain…”

The villagers heard her and soon planned a feast for the King, got him drunk and assassinated him.  However, the guilt of assassinating the king did not let the villagers live peacefully.  They pleaded their tsawai lam (root guru) Jarepa to resettle them in a faraway place.

That was in 1347.

Lam Jarepa sought Aum Jumo’s spiritual guidance and he led the villagers to move to Shawoog village, present day Arunachal Pradesh in India. They brought with them the 32-volumes of Buddhist text and cattle.

The group however lost their way and came across a waterfall in a place called Gyarong Drag. Lam Japera with his supernatural power sent the people and their belongings with the flow of the waterfall. It is believed that the Buddhist texts are today seen in the form of rock near the waterfall.

After crossing mountains and rivers towards the west, the villagers settled at Somathang village in Tawang for three months. But, there is no record or history of how many people travelled with the lam.

They however, could not settle in Somathang village because of famine and snakebites. Lam Jarepa consulted Aum Jomo, who waved a white fabric towards the east.

During the journey, lam Jarepa is said to have cleared a way by piercing through a treacherous rock. This rock can still be found at Arunachal Pradesh and Sakteng border.

On reaching Tsholung (evil lake that disappeared humans into clouds), lam Jarepa divided the lake into three. Each belonged to the three ethnic groups of brokpas (Kom, Lon and Rok).  The three lakes still exist in northern Sakteng, where nomads today use the surrounding as grazing land (Tsamdro).

Brokpas first settled in Sakteng (Sak-bamboo, ten-ground). This is where the orally passed story of yeti comes from. It’s believed that Lam Jarepa with his supernatural power had kept the yeti away from humans, which initially had troubled the nomadic community.

Slowly, people started settling towards Merak (burnt area). They travelled to Phongmey to barter butter and cheese with grains, a tradition, which is still practiced today.

This history of brokpas as narrated by one of the brokpas, Tshering Tenzin, is painted on an 11x5ft cloth piece. The painting along with four other paintings was displayed for public view at Hotel Druk on April 8.

An additional element in the painting is a portrait of His Majesty The King, where brokpas are making an offering to His Majesty.

It took a year for painter Tshering Tenzin to complete the painting and said it was one of the most challenging paintings he has ever made.

“Although I started painting 12 years ago, translating our history and origin into a painting was not easy,” he said.

The painting is also a final product of a French photographer, researcher and traveller, Robert Dompnier’s 15-year research on natives of Merak and Sakteng. The story was derived from three manuscripts written in choeki, which Robert discovered from the community.

He said, when he was in Trashigang during his first visit to Bhutan in 1999, he was fascinated by the brokpas. “Merak and Sakten then was restricted to foreigners,” he said. “But I was interested to know more.”

It took him three years to avail a special permit following which he began his research. At the end of this year, a coffee table book will be published that has Robert’s compilation of the brokpa’s “namtha.” In July, the painting will be placed at the newly constructed lhakhang in Thakthi village of Merak.

By Nirmala Pokhrel