In Drubthob Thangtong Gyalpo’s (1385- 1446/1458?) biography, the valley of Haa is referred to as Hay. The Choekey, word is used to express breath-taking surprise. Five centuries later, the great Tibetan Dzogchen master, Polu Khenpo Dorji (c. 1896-1970) confirmed the name of the valley as Hay.
Like Haa, there are multiple sacred sites by the same name, both in Bhutan and elsewhere. For example, Paro Taktsang was called Hay Taktsang. The monastery of Neyphug is actually Hay Phug. In Tibet there is a monastery called Hay Puri. Similarly in Nepal, the village next to the sacred site of the Draphu Ma Ra Tika is called Hay Li Si. All these sites have two things in common: association with Guru Padmasambhava and towering hills.
The eighth century mystic Guru Padmasambhava is credited with the creation of several hidden lands to offer safe refuge in times of crisis. Several of these sanctuaries are in Bhutan. Haa is considered one of them.
Ancient lore embraces tales of how Guru Rinpoche hid many ter or treasures in Bhutan including in the Haa valley. The great Buddhist master blessed Haa as a bes ney or hidden land. Following in the Guru’s footsteps, many other great Buddhist masters visited and blessed the valley. Some of these luminaries include Gelong Ma Pem, Terton Sherab Mebar and Drubthob Thangtong Gyalpo.
The 13th Je Khenpo of Bhutan, Yonten Thaye (1724-1784) recognised the sacred state of the Hay valley. His Holiness said that the valley is so pure that there are no traces of impediments or obstacles. So it does not come as a surprise that the valley is filled with ney, or sacred sites. It has at least 17 neys, 42 Lhakhangs and 113 Chorten Dangrims.
The main protector of the sacred Hay valley is Ap Chungdu. People in the valley revere him as their principal protector as much as they fear his wrath.
Ap Chungdu features in Terton Pema Lingpa’s book of revelations, Thuji Chenpo Muensel Droenme. According to a legend in the book, during the eighth century Guru Rinpoche performed the fifth series of Avalokitesvara’s Abhisekha ceremony at the cave of Gyon-yul-pal.
At that time, Ap Chungdu had been working in concert with other evil deities. Together, they were trying to obstruct the Guru’s spiritual pursuits. The combined evil forces created cyclones, set lakes on fire, split rocks, cut down forests, reduced mountains to rubble and rolled the resultant debris down the hillsides. In defence, Guru Rinpoche simply wielded a golden dorje and knocked the evil forces unconscious.
According to the legend, when Ap Chungdu regained consciousness, he found himself turned into a boy. Realizing Guru Rinpoche’s power, he prostrated himself in submission before the almighty Guru with the following words: “We are all your subjects. We pledge to dedicate our lives to your service. We shall be the protectors of the Buddhist doctrine.” It is said that Guru accepted Ap Chungdu’s peace offering and blessed him, and made him the principal protector of the valley.
Although Ap Chungdu is only the deity of Hay, his status is that of Zorarakye, the protecting deity of the beyul (bes yul) or hidden land, Khenpajong north of Bumthang in Lhuentse. Because Ap Chungdu received blessings directly from Guru, he has been included amongst the deities of the Tantric Mandala. To this day, people in the valley pray to Ap Chungdu for protection. There is a statue of him in the Lhakhang Karpo.
Black and White Temples
Lhakhang Karpo, the White Temple is one of the most important temples of the valley. The other is Lhakhang Nakpo, the Black Temple.
In the Lho Chojung Sarpa by the 69th Je Khenpo Gendun Rinchen who is regarded as a great scholar, there are two stories about the history of the temples. His Holiness says that in the absence of documents he had to base his research on oral accounts. According to the first story, the 33rd Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo (c.605-650, dates vary) built the two Lhakhangs at the same time as Jambay and Kyichu Lhakhangs. But this is yet to be attested.
Je Gendun Rinchen relates that the Tibetan King set a black and a white pigeon free from Lhasa. The places where these birds landed in Haa are where he had the temples built miraculously in one day.
The second story is as magical as the first one. It recounts that people appeared from the three hills, built these two lhakhangs in a day and then disappeared back into the hills. These three hills are considered Ap Chungdu’s neykhang or abode. Hence, from that day the hill was called Rig-sum and the valley given the name Hay Lung or the Valley of Surprises.
In Lopen Pema Tshewang’s paper titled, Neyig of Hay Valley, he records an oral account of how the head of the Amitabha Buddha statue miraculously appeared in Lhakhang Karpo. Lopen Pema Tshewang said that while the main statue was being sculpted, a stranger came to sell the head of the statue. Drawn by the workmanship, the sculptor placed it on the body and it stuck like a magnet.
Fondly known as Lopen Pemala, his story validates local knowledge but the village elders have more details to share. According to them, when the sculptor was finding it difficult to sculpt the head of the statue, a stranger dressed in blue appeared at crack of dawn. After delivering the head of the statue he disappeared from view.
Seeing the statue fit perfectly, the sculptor is amazed. When he looks for the stranger, he is nowhere to be found. Overwhelmed, the sculptor exclaims “Hay”.
That statue is the main nangten (relic) of the Lhakhang Karpo and can still be seen today. The peculiar feature is that the head is slightly bent and somewhat disproportionately large for the body.
The other main nangten of the Lhakhang Karpo, a statue of Jowo, is considered equally sacred. Lopen Pemala found that both temples were built by the same carpenter. It is believed that the master craftsman was the manifestation of King Songtsen Gampo. While no written records have yet surfaced, oral tradition holds it that the master carpenter miraculously built the temples at the same time as the Kyichu temple in Paro.
In Lopen Pemala’s Neyig, he also unravels the enigma of Kirpri Budethangkha. The popular pilgrim site is where the rock with the impression of Guru’s body and hat can be seen. It is believed that the impression is similar to the one at Kurje Lhakhang in Bumthang. The impression of where Guru tied his horse Balaha on the rock can still be seen today.
Stories in the Neyig tell of Guru’s pursuit of a demon that had transformed itself into a serpent. When local residents heard about it, they hid behind a hill, an act that gave rise to the name of their village Yipri, which is now known as Kipri. Guru is said to have tamed the serpent and transformed it into stone. The place where the rock stands is Budethang, with Bu meaning snake and De means demon and thang meaning flat land.
A village elder narrates another version. He said that when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel was fighting the Lam Kha Nga, it is said he hid behind the hill and hence the name Yipri.
Below the Budethang rock is another rock. Though smaller in size it is associated with Guru. It is said that when Guru visited Kipri (Yipri), the locals hid behind the hill because they were feeling shy.
Another legend talks about how the tutelary deity Vajrakila Kumar (Dorji Zhonu) appeared at a house in Kipri. The man of the house was not the most pious person in the valley. When he saw the deity, he threw sticks and chased the divine being away. It is said that the deity took flight, landing on an oak tree in Chubarna in close proximity to the Black Temple. It is said that the deity then flew onwards, flying above the Hay Dzong and finally settling down on another oak tree in the village of Bangyena.
The owners of the two houses went in front of the tree and invited the deity to their respective homes. The deity went to the upper house, causing the owner of the lower house to become envious.
He began quarrelling with his neighbour, the quarrel escalating into a bloody fight that resulted in the death of the owner of the upper house. As required by the traditional laws of the time, the accused offered the family of the victim a plot of land. Since then, every year on the eleventh month, the Vajrakila ritual is performed. A statue of Vajrakila is said to have flown to the Zang Lhakhang at Hechu. The statue can still be seen today.
Our elders in Haa are convinced that the three sacred hills in the valley represent and remind them of our two living monarchs and Gyalsey, our Crown Prince.
According to these elders, the central hill represents Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara) and corresponds to His Majesty the Fifth Druk Gyalpo who has evidenced this appellation by his actions and is revered by the populace as representing the ultimate embodiment of compassion. Our elders are convinced of His Majesty’s ability to recognize and empathize with the suffering and pain experienced by all sentient beings.
According to our elders, the hill that represents Jampelyang (Bodhisattva Manjusri) symbolizes His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, as he is seen by them as the embodiment of transcendental wisdom.
The right hill represents Chana Dorji (Vajrapani) the Holder of the Secret Doctrines, remover of obstacles and our spiritual guardian. This reminds the elders of our Gyalsey who is seen as the embodiment of the energized power of all the Buddhas of the past, present and future.
Haa is often described like a mirror covered by the vapour of one’s breath. The sacred valley is filled with traditional folklore that often blends with facts. In the valley of the three sacred towering hills, hangs stories that are now only seen in movies. As a cool, wet alpine haunt of Bhutan, with pristine white water gushing through it, the magnificent valley of Hay can easily qualify as an earthly paradise filled with breathtaking surprises.