Ngenpa Guzom: The Day of Nine Evils

WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO: One of the popular festive events in the Bhutanese calendar year is the day of Ngenpa Guzom (ངན་པ་དགུ་འཛོམས་) or nine evils. It is usually observed on the 7th day of the 11th Bhutanese month although the actual astrological period of Ngenpa Guzom starts sometime in the afternoon of the 6th day. Bhutanese traditionally spend the day partying and playing and do not engage in wholesome activities.

Why is it evil?

Most likely originating from the Chinese astrological system, Ngenpa Guzom, the day of nine evils, is based on the lunar calendrical calculation and geomancy. The time of Ngenpa Guzom coincides with the greatest dark day of the year as it is the period of the malicious earth spirit Nyima Nagchen and eight other bad earth spirits. The belief in the many types of earth spirits (ས་བདག་) mainly originate from the tradition of geomancy passed down from ancient China. An ancient folk story from the geomantic tradition has it that during the rise of the sentient beings in this world, an earth spirit Yadud Dorji and his wife Sasrin Barma had five children including a son called Rahula and four daughters. After the siblings become separated in the course of time and when Rahula travelled round Mount Meru and met one of his sisters, he did not recognize her. As a result, they had an incestuous relationship on the 7th day of the 11th month. The impurity of the incestuous relationship thus polluted the elements and atmosphere of the earth and caused a myriad of evil things. According to some astrologers, the figure nine just indicates a great number and should not be read literally as a figure. It is common in classical Tibetan to use the term nine to indicate profusion and multiplicity. Thus, according to such reading, Ngenpa Guzom is a day of many evils.

What do we do?

As the positive forces are believed to be at a low point and the negative forces are strong during Ngenpa Guzom, people do not engage themselves in wholesome and meritorious deeds. Most people stay at home resting and having a free relaxing time. People are dissuaded from undertaking important and positive activities such as construction, consecration, empowerment, charity, enthronement, funerals and trade. Families get together to eat a special meal and men often spend the day playing games. Furthermore, according to the tradition, the negativity of Ngenpa Guzom is countervailed by Zangpo Chuzom (བཟང་པོ་བཅུ་འཛོམས་) or the day of ten goods, which falls on the following day.

Although such ancient beliefs are declining fast and Ngenpa Guzom is no longer included among the national holidays, the occasion has a socio-cultural benefit in bringing together friends and families to enjoy at least one day with no serious inhibition or restriction. It is a day when many Bhutanese temporarily hang up their moral hats and live with less moral or spiritual strictures. However, it is also important not to misinterpret and exaggerate the significance of the pre-Buddhist tradition of Ngenpa Guzom to take it as an opportunity to engage in negative and harmful activities with a belief that any evil is permissible on this day.

Dr Karma Phuntsho is the President of the Loden Foundation, director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’ Cultural Documentation and author The History of Bhutan.

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