….Popular activity of wooing women in the dark is a thing of the past

Neten Dorji

The Ngamgang Kora and Gomphu Kora were two popular annual events that drew huge crowds from Trashiyangtse and neighboring areas, including from Arunachal Pradesh in India.

The two events, which are held on the 30th of the first Bhutanese month,  and 10th day of the second Bhutanese month, with the circumambulation of the choetens at night being the most popular event.

However, it is changing and the popular customs, including playful interactions and romantic pursuits. Giving way to a more subdued atmosphere.

A Trashiyangtse resident, Kobi, 71, said that earlier Dakpa people from across the border would perform their particular dances, with the men and women often dancing separately or alternately in rows.

“Love songs used to fill the air, and there was a lot of joking, laughing, and drinking going on,” he recounts.  “There were no houses or buildings, no roads or electricity, and also no monastic masked dance performance.”

Yeshi Dorji, 91 fondly remembers that boys like to wrestle, and that cheeky ones were trying to pull the girls away from the circumambulation path at night.

“In the past, men and women would tease each other with songs and verse. On the other hand, while girls circumambulate the temple, men would sometimes grab them in the dark and pull them away. Such incidents would often result in marriage. However, this is no longer the case as people are now aware of the laws,” he explained.

The circumambulation of sacred rock continued until about three in the morning.

Another elderly man recalled that both young men and women used to playfully tease each other in romantic interactions.

“Previously, youths would not hesitate to forcefully grab and harass women, even in the face of their resistance and shouts. Some would use torch lights to search for sleeping partners for the night in the tents,” he added.

In this otherwise thinly populated region, locals claimed that chances of meeting someone of the opposite sex who might be the right one to marry were higher than ever during the Gomphu Kora festival.

Tashi La, a Trashiyangtse resident, said people were earlier seen circumambulating the temple late at nights and men would often court women, and people returned as married couples after the Tshechu.

“I mediated between a few couples to marry each other and start life here at the Tshechu,” he smiles as he recalls. “Those were the memorable days, but the cases of men courting women are hardly seen and heard of now,” he added.

Norbu Lhamo, a resident of Tawang, agrees that males used to pull their legs while they were sleeping in tents, and some would grab them in the dark. “Now, we haven’t experienced such behaviour since most people respect the law and women.”

Today, observers say that the charm of Gomphu Kora has waned.  As the clock strikes 10 pm, the place settles for the night, and cases of men courting women are hardly heard of.

They say the festival has obviously changed quite dramatically compared to the past.

“In the presence of police and the law, we do not see people behaving as they did in the past,”said an observer. “With the new development of modern commercialization, people focus more on business rather than witnessing tshechu.”