Why we do what we do: Preu Chod and Trelda is one of the oldest festivals of central Bhutan. Preu Chod and Trelda Tshechu are occasions for Bhutanese to celebrate the anniversary of Guru Rinpoche. Preu Chod, literally means the offering (chodpa) of the monkey month (preu dawa), preu being a local Bhutanese pronunciation of the classical term treu (སྤྲེའུ་). Trelda refers to the Monkey month (སྤྲེལ་ཟླ་). The twelve months in Bhutanese calendar are associated to the twelve animal signs and Guru Rinpoche was born on the 10th day of the Monkey month.
However, different calendar calculations allocate the Monkey sign to different months. Thus, the Monkey month is identified to be the 3rd Bhutanese month by some, 4th by others and 5th or 6th month by yet others. Thus, in some parts of Bhutan, Preu Chod is celebrated in the third month while in others, it is celebrated in the 4th month. Similary, Treda is observed in the 5th month by some and 6th month by others. Whichever the case may be, the 10th day (ཚེས་བཅུ་) of the Monkey month is the day Guru Rinpoche is believed to have been born and the day when he carried out many enlightened activities.
To the Bhutanese, Guru Rinpoche is not just ‘a precious teacher’ and historical figure who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century but he is a quintessential divinity. From the first prayers toddlers mumble to the grand state festivals, from fleeting dreams of hermits to formidable public monuments, Guru Rinpoche forms the focus of Bhutanese spirituality and religious culture. Bhutanese pray to him for health, wealth, long life, safety, happy rebirth, success in business, war, exams and virtually in all affairs of life. Above all, he is considered to be the unsurpassed guide to enlightenment for the people of hidden lands such as Bhutan. He is the epitome of Bhutan’s religious ideals and can be rightly considered the spiritual father or patron saint of Bhutan. The Bhutanese world is imbued with Guru Rinpoche’s presence and blessings.
On the day of Preu Chod, Guru Rinpoche is believed to visit all shrines and homes. Thus, in the Bumthang, Kurtoe and Kheng areas of Bhutan, people clean their houses in preparation of Guru Rinpoche’s visit. Men go to the forest to fetch flowers which blooms around this time to offer them to Guru Rinpoche. The women sweep every nook and cranny of their houses and prepare offerings of food. Because Guru Rinpoche, with the miraculous power in his enlightened mind, is said to approach in numerous emanations through any openings, people clean, fumigate and fill the entrances and crevices of their houses with incenses and flowers.
Guru Rinpoche is believed to arrive riding the rays of the morning sun, thus offerings of food and drinks are laid out in the morning. People make all kinds of local cookies and offer them with vegetables and fruits. In some places, special dishes are made and special songs are sung.
The Preu Chod and Treda are special occasions to be in the awareness of Guru Rinpoche and to remember the inner values of non-violence, compassion, wisdom and enlightenment which Guru Rinpoche so thoroughly embodies.
Dr Karma Phuntsho is the President of the Loden Foundation, director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and author of The History of Bhutan