Rituals and traditions have played important roles in the lives of people. The rituals in Bhutan are ubiquitous and deeply ingrained in the culture that is performed on an annual basis to appease the local deity who provides people with temporary refuge, bestow blessings, brings about good fortune, and accomplishes annual wishes. Damkar or Dhangkar or also known as Jah Ghi Aum is one ritual conducted to mark the paddy transplantation that is predominately practiced in Paro and Thimphu districts. Damkar ritual rejuvenates the mutual trust and understanding of the community who feel contented due to the good start of the event. There are several mystical beliefs associated to determine a good or bad harvest according to the local specific community. For instance, at Gyebjana village under Lungnyi Gewog, the community reveres the visit of a mythical creature Dreygho Chuchem as an indication of profuse harvest by observing the wetness of Gho kept overnight on Sabo (grain storage) in the early morning.

 According to oral history, the derivation of the Damkar ritual has existed since the days of their forefathers. However, proper documentation on Damkar is lacking. Damkar is usually conducted in the 3rd or 4th month of the lunar calendar coinciding with the time of paddy transplantation. There are variations seen in conducting Damkar ritual among various communities in different places but generally involves seeking guidance from astrological predictions to find the most favorable time and direction in which the paddy is to be transplanted. The astrology prediction includes a compatible person/s to be considered for transplantation based on the twelve animal zodiac signs. At Phunub village, located at the foothill of Ragoe Nye under Doteng Gewog, only women are allowed to lead the Damkar although such gender roles are not defined in Maedwang villages under Thimphu. Generally, a person born in the year of the Ox (Glang) is considered suitable for Damkar. In any case, a person born in the year of a rat (Bjewa), pig (Phag) or rooster (Bja) is said not to lead the rice transplantation as these zodiac animals are seen as a threat to the crops. 

On 31st May 2023 coinciding auspicious day, Damkar was celebrated at Aum Desam’s house in Phunub village whose main door faces Chumigang mountain (rice heaped shape abode). The terraced field that had been fertilized with farmyard manure (FYM), ploughed, and irrigated was set up earlier before the actual Damkar ritual. Early morning, field tillage had begun starting from the first terrace field called Dhangka-ari. Twenty females were hired to uproot paddy seedlings from the dryland seed beds, bundle them up, stack them for carrying in a basket, and transplant the seedling. All field activity such as ploughing, sowing seeds, weeding, and harvesting crop takes place by facing towards Chumigang citadel. Meanwhile, five bundles of healthy paddy seedlings were kept overnight at the altar. The monk performs Lhabsang-Thruesel (the ritual of cleansing any defilements) inside the altar. The elected local leaders of the Gewog led by Gup, Mangi Ap and Tsogpas arrive at Aum Desam’s place. They are received by the host and escorted to the main sitting room and offered salted and sugared tea with snacks. The local leaders’ hand over the token of gifts as a customary practice for visiting the household to mark the Damkar ritual. Breakfast is being served to the guests while the Lhabsang-Thruesel continues at the altar. The women folk uprooting paddy seedling and the men engaged in pulverizing irrigated terrace field with a machine take a break and joins for breakfast. Then they prepare for Zhugdrel Phunsum Tsogpa (triple attributes of grace, glory and wealth) ceremony. Commencing with an offering of a betel nut and leaves, a solemn recitation is performed for the offering of tea (Jhachang) and alcohol (Marchang) in a chronological order that ends Zhugdrel Phusum Tsogpa. The Gup and others offer Nyendhar (cash) and khadar (silk scarves) to the altar in turn. Later, the decorated paddy seedlings on Thokey from the altar is taken out and proceeds in a procession to the Dhangka-ari. The procession includes five women chosen based on birth year and proceeds singing and merry-making to the Dhangka-ari. On reaching the site, the five women line-ups inside the puddled field facing Chumigang mountain while solemn prayer is performed by the monk. The Gup of Doteng then hands over a bundle of paddy seedlings each to the five women and directs them to proceed to the extreme end for transplanting. The Damkar flag is hoisted at the starting end of the terrace. The women pray for a bountiful harvest without disease and pests. Then the middle lady moves forward and transplants three paddy seedlings while the remaining four women then join with scintillating songs and transplant paddy seedlings that mark the beginning of paddy transplantation. While the women folk continue transplanting paddy seedlings rhythmically backward, the Doteng Gup tries farm machinery for puddling terrace field by facing Chumigang mountain. This marks the official commencement of paddy transplantation under Doteng Gewog. At Kharabjee village under Maedwang Gewog, the community prays for the first transplanting season by soliciting positive messages like “Tsimo bu ba thoo ma chu (may no pest cause harm to the panicles), Ja ghi za ma chu (protect the crops from birds), Lo toh lay chu (may the harvest be bountiful)”. In Khasadrapchu village under Maedwang Gewog, Damkar is also known as “Chang-guh Chang-ju,” meaning the beginning of paddy transplantation and the completion of paddy transplantation. Such practice of completing paddy transplantation in a day is important so that it enables downstream households to start transplantation from the next day since no one would like to delay farm activities that would affect their paddy yield. 

According to 70 years Aum Desam, her family has taken Damkar at the helm since her house’s front entrance faces Chumigang (rice-heaped) mountain. Should there be a failure to conduct Damkar, the community would impose a penalty on her. In the afternoon, the elected Tsogpas visit their electoral constituency to monitor whether anybody had breached in transplanting paddy seedlings in their field which would lead to a penalty. There is a myth behind that if someone else had transplanted who is not supposed to, the harvest won’t be satisfactory, and misfortune will befall the whole community. It appeared that once the community of Doteng Gewog decided to rotate Damkar ritual from another household. Coincidently that year, the paddy harvest yield was poor, and the community decided to revert to uphold the Damkar ritual from Aum Desam’s household henceforth. Such elaborate traditional Damkar ritual appears to survive only at Doteng Gewog although various form of Damkar is performed in other parts of Paro valley. The modernization of farming with improved technologies and conducive wide and flat terraces downstream valley has led to dilute the traditional ways of appeasing the local deities. Yet, the wish of Doteng Gewog too is to use transplanters in their community so that farming is less drudgery, and the youth take up as a profession. Any interventions of the sustainable land management programme under the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock in widening the existing terraces will minimize twenty women labour forces and reduce the time to complete transplantation in a day while Damkar can still be performed to appease Chumigang deity. With well-maintained basecourse farm road access unto the foothill of the Ragoe Nye – so-called 2nd Taktsang, Phunub village’s land management programme is feasible to contribute to sustaining Damkar ritual perpetually.

Contributed by

Namgyel Wangmo, Phanchung (PhD), 

Tshering Wangmo, Bhutan Himalayan Research Initiatives


Disclaimer: The views expressed are of the authors and do not reflect any ritual procedures. This monograph was a part of regional study of indigenous and local knowledge undertaken by the professional firm.