WHAT WE DO WHY WE DO: Marchang is type of serkem or alcohol offering in tantric Buddhism, which we have already discussed. Literally marchang refers to chang or alcohol with mar or butter. In the Bhutanese culture, the marchang offering is made to launch an auspicious event, mark an important occasion or receive an honoured guest. Alcohol is put with fermented grains in a container, often a decorated traditional vessel called trho, with a strainer and a traditional serving ladle. The container is ornamented with three butter decorations or their substitutes and the offering is made with chanting and very refined code of conduct.

The most common liturgy used in Bhutan for marchang offering, especially at formal occasion, is the one composed by Drukpa Kagyu master Pema Karpo. The chant basically starts with the transformation of the ordinary alcohol into transcendental nectar by chanting the three powerful syllables of om, ah, hung. The ordinary substance is first dissolved in the expanse of emptiness. Then, out of emptiness one visualises many transcendental offerings including the five nectars of tantric Buddhism. These five nectars are extraordinary substances, which trigger spiritual experience by overcoming ordinary prejudices, perceptions and discriminations such as mundane sense of impurity, likes and dislikes. According to the standard enumeration, they are urine, faeces, blood, semen and marrow. They are known as pancha amrita or five spiritual nectars because, in tantric Buddhist context, their consumption helps people to overcome their ordinary biases and propensities and achieve the deathless state of enlightenment.

During marchang, one offers these five spiritual nectars firstly to the root and lineage gurus or teachers. As shown in the text below, then one makes offerings of these five nectars to all the deities of four tantric systems: kriya, charya, yoga and anuttarayoga. This is followed by offerings to the powerful male and female spiritual partners who help us on our spiritual path, and to the dharma protectors and guardian deities led by Mahakala. Finally, one makes the offering to all the sentient beings including those who reside in the particular house or area. These groups of beings are the recipients of the offering of spiritual nectars, which are represented by the marchang alcohol.


ཨོྃ་ཨཱ་ཧཱུྃ།  མཆོད་དོ། ཕུད་ཐམས་ཅད་ཀྱི་ མངའ་བདག རིགས་ཐམས་ཅད་ཀྱི་དབང་ཕྱུག་ དཀྱིལ་འཁོར་ཐམས་ཅད་ཀྱི་གཙོ་བོ། དུས་གསུམ་སངས་རྒྱས་ཐམས་ཅད་ཀྱི་སྐུ་གསུང་ཐུགས་གཉིས་སུ་མེད་པའི་ཡེ་ཤེས་ཀྱི་ངོ་བོ་རྩ་བརྒྱུད་ཀྱི་རྗེ་བཙུན་དཔལ་ལྡན་བླ་མ་དམ་པ་མ་ལུས་ཤིང་ལུས་པ་མེད་པ་རྣམས་ཀྱི་ཞལ་དུ་པཉྩ་ཨམྲྀཏ་པཱུ་ཛ་ཁཱ་ཧི།

Om Ah Hum! O All excellent, noble, sublime, root and lineage gurus, who are supreme ones [entitled] to the first portion, the lords of all the [Buddha] families, the principal of all mandalas and the embodiment of the non-dual wisdom of body, speech, and mind of the Buddhas of three times! Please enjoy the offering of the five nectars.


བྱ་བའི་རྒྱུད་ སྤྱོད་པའི་རྒྱུད་ རྣལ་འབྱོར་གྱི་རྒྱུད་ རྣལ་འབྱོར་བླ་ན་མེད་པའི་རྒྱུད་དང་འབྲེལ་བའི་ཡི་དམ་དཀྱིལ་འཁོར་གྱི་ལྷ་ཚོགས་ མ་ལུས་ཤིང་ལུས་པ་མེད་པ་རྣམས་ཀྱི་ཞལ་དུ་པཉྩ་ཨམྲྀཏ་པཱུ་ཛ་ཁཱ་ཧི།

O All assemblies of yidam deities of mandalas which are associated with action tantra, conduct tantra, yoga tantra and unsurpassable yoga tantra! Please enjoy the offering of the five nectars.


གནས་གསུམ་གྱི་དཔའ་བོ་དང་ མཁའ་འགྲོ་མ་རྣམས་དང་ དུར་ཁྲོད་ཆེན་པོ་བརྒྱད་ནང་གནས་པའི་ཕྱོགས་སྐྱོང་དང་ ཞིང་སྐྱོང་གི་མཁའ་འགྲོ་མ་ མ་ལུས་ཤིང་ ལུས་པ་མེད་པ་རྣམས་ཀྱི་ཞལ་དུ་པཉྩ་ཨམྲྀཏ་པཱུ་ཛ་ཁཱ་ཧི།

O All heroes and dakinis of three power spots and the cardinal and territorial gaurdian-dakinis in the eight great charnel grounds! Please enjoy the offering of the five nectars.


དཔལ་མ་ཧཱ་ཀཱ་ལ་ ཁྲག་འཐུང་གི་རྒྱལ་པོ་ རྣལ་འབྱོར་གྱི་དགྲ་ལྷ་ དུག་གསུམ་གྱི་སྨན་པ་གཙུག་ལག་ཁང་དང་ དཀྱིལ་འཁོར་གྱི་སྲུང་མ་ཆེན་པོ་ བྱ་རོག་མིང་ཅན་འཁོར་བཀའ་སྡོད་དང་བཅས་པ་ལ་སོགས་པ་ དམ་པ་ཆོས་སྐྱོང་བ་མ་ལུས་ཤིང་ལུས་པ་མེད་པ་རྣམས་ཀྱི་ཞལ་དུ་པཉྩ་ཨམྲྀཏ་པཱུ་ཛ་ཁཱ་ཧི།

O Glorious Mahakala, the king of blood-drinkers, the dralha god of the yogis, the healer of the three poisons, the great guardian of holy institutions and mandalas, the one renowned as Raven, your retinue, subjects, and all other guardians of sacred dharma! Please enjoy the offering of the five nectars.



Further, O Eight classes of gods and spirits including those who reside in this land and all the sentient beings included in the six realms and four modes of birth! Please enjoy the offering of the five nectars.

In the villages, the men often cry out loud in jubilation when the chanting ends. After making offering to these recipients, the marchang is offered to the human guest of honour and the chief guest receives the drop of alcohol as a token and consumes it. Alcohol is then served to other guests.


What should one think during marchang?

When one offers the marchang, one should visualise, as mentioned above, five spiritual nectars and myriads of offering arising from the state of emptiness and being offered to the various recipients. If one cannot do that, one should at least think that one is making a heartfelt offering of spiritual nectar and alcohol. One should think that having received the offering, all enlightened and ordinary recipients are filled with happiness and bliss. One should think that the marchang offering has pleased and satisfied the deities and spirits so that they commit to give one continued support and protection to live a happy life, do good and make progress on the path to enlightenment. The marchang ceremony is today a hallmark of Drukpa ritual of inauguration and celebration.

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

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