Lo choe

WHY WE DO WHAR WE DO: Lo choe literally means annual religious practice. It is a seasonal celebration when a family gets together to make offerings to its protecting deities and have a festive gathering with its neighbours and community. Thus, it combines both a religious and social event for celebration.

As a religious ritual, lo choe is mainly an occasion to make offerings and amends for failures to the family’s tutelary deities. A family can have a large number of protector deities including national deities such as Mahakala and Pelden Lhamo, regional territorial deities such as Genyen Jagpa Melan and Ap Chundue and local deities of the specific place. The deities are generally associated with the particular territory but sometime when a person moves to another place, the family has to propitiate the deities from the ancestral home. During the lo choe ritual, the deities are represented by the torma dough and butter sculptures.

A tantric ritual involving visualisation and chanting of mantras is conducted although this can vary from region to region and household to household. In course of the rituals, the family’s deities are invited to the house to enjoy the offerings as a token of gratitude. Liturgies for confession and supplication are also chanted to make amends for any wrongdoing and failure to propitiate them on time or follow their wishes. The members of the household would be often called to make prostrations as these prayers are chanted. The religious ceremony often ends with the ritual to enhance longevity and wealth.

As a social event, lo choe is an occasion for the family and community to get together and celebrate agricultural harvest. It normally happens in winter when people have a break from the agricultural work. In some villages, during lo choe the family feeds the whole village from breakfast until dinner. In others, the family gives a big luncheon or dinner. The family provides the best food to their guests and in most areas alcohol is a major component of the party.

In the past, as meat was rare, a lot of meat was served during lo choe as a specialty and animals were slaughtered for this purpose. Today, meat is no more a rare delicacy and there is growing awareness of vegetarianism. So, the Je Khenpo and many religious figures advise people to stop offering meat. If the compassionate deities are invited to accept the offering, it is considered wrong to offer meat to the deities, who cherish all sentient beings.

What should one think during lo choe?

One should make the best of one’s offering to the deities but the quality of the offerings is not in the material value of the things offered. It is in the purity of the heart and devotion. Thus, it is important to make an offering with genuine faith and generosity. Lo choe should not be to impress the neighbours. It is also important to offer appropriate things to please the deities. Deities cannot be pleased by a symbolic offering of food on the altar. One must make offering of one’s services to their cause to help sentient beings and strive to live up to their enlightened ideals. One must make amends for negative actions and promise to engage in positive and wholesome actions.

Lo choe is an occasion to show gratitude to both the divine and human actors for the blessings in life and to celebrate it with the hope of making it better.

Dr Karma Phuntsho, is the founding director of Loden Foundation and author of The History of Bhutan

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