Local leaders of the eight gewogs are busy preparing for the Dromchhoe that begins next week
COVER STORY: Every year at this time, men of Wang-Tshochengay (eight great clans of western Bhutan) transform themselves into pazaps (warriors) and reenact the war scenes from the times of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.
Monks are busy. The 15-day Goempai-Wangchen is underway, at the conclusion of which, the three-day Punakha Dromchhoe will begin from February 23. The gups of eight gewogs were busy selecting pazaps, buying new cooking utensils, clothes for pazaps and preparing for the great Dromchhoe. New and younger pazaps are being groomed.
Punakha Dromchhoe was first performed in 1639 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel to hoodwink the Tibetan invaders. Zhabdrung had the Tibetans believe that he cast off Rangjung Kharsapani (he self-created image of Chenrezig or Aveloketeshvara) into the Mochu. The deceived Tibetans went back thinking that there is no longer any purpose to fight with the Bhutanese.
The pazaps in traditional warrior’s garb will gather at Punakha dzong before the Dromchhoe, pitch tents and set up war camps near the dzong.
Tewang gup Tauchu said that Tibetan invaders were hiding and watching from above Jeligang, a hill above cremation ground in Punakha, waiting for the perfect moment to forcibly take back the relic that Zhabdrung brought along with him in 1616.
The eight western clans or gewogs – Kawang, Chang, Mewang in Thimphu, and Baap, Kabjisa, Shengana, Tewang and Toeb in Punakha contributed 136 pazaps, including eight zimpons or makpons (generals) and eight gups as lama’s representative during the war.
Besides recreating the war scenes, there will also be a demonstration of Norbu-Chu-shani or immersion of relic into the Mochu.
Baap gup Wangchuk said that each gewog will select 17 pazaps including a zimpon and eight gups, who will be the representatives of Zhabdrung and guide warriors at war.
The upper part of pazaps’ red dress resembles a kira. The lower part is folded as gho. The pazaps wear black jacket and khamar kabney (scarf). They also wear tshoglham (traditional boots), helmet and patang.
The zimpons will have to wear the finest battle garb, a gho with magnificent patterns, a white skirt, with Dhar Naga (five-colored scarves) woven around their chests. They also wear heavy metal helmets decorated with flags. Hanging from their waits are resplendent swords.
The gups have to wear red robe, transforming into monks until the end of the Dromchhoe because they are the representatives from the dzong selected by Zhabdrung and sent as chief of worriers to guard each clan of warriors.
The pazaps have to perform Bay (groundbreaking ceremony) at the courtyard of the dzong with songs, demonstrating how to fight at war. The eight zimpons will perform Bae cham (special war dance) in front of the lama, Zhabdrung’s representative, both inside the dzong and in the courtyard.
Gups of Baap and Kabjisa instruct the pazaps and rules are made clear – when to proceed and when to do what. The two gups have held the full responsibility to guide and take care of all the warriors. They will arrange the tents, cooking utensils and take care of cooks, firewood, food and clothes and boots and patang. The pazaps will bring their own plates, cups and beddings.
According to Baap gup Wangchuk, the gewog leaders in the olden days had to collect rice from people. That was called Gupi Kam-Thre (dry-tax for local leaders). They would, of course, have to arrange clothes, cooking utensils and tents just like they do today. They would also arrange food to be served during the three-day Dromchhoe. A special pig was raised to served to the pazaps.
But Dromchhoe preparation has now become so much easier, said gup Wangchuk. There is fund from the government. It was when the former Prime Minister Jigme Y Thinley was the home minister that financial support for Dromchhoe was introduced. Today, pazaps get Nu 2,500 allowance. Of course, they cannot take the dress home.
Gup Wangchuk said that selecting pazaps has also become by much easier. “But it is difficult to control the younger ones. It is always better to have matured people with experience.”
Even as they are just putting up an act, pazaps feel like they are real warriors. They take care of their dress and live in the tents and act tough. Dromchhoe may be the only time when pazaps can shout at the dzongda (called Nyerchen in the olden days). Pazaps often repeat an old threat: “Bring us alcohol or tea. If not, bring us girls. If you can bring us neither, we suggest you bring your wife to us.”
Nima Gyeltshen, National Council member from Chang in Thimphu, has been a pazap at Dromchhoe for over seven years. He said pazaps from Thimphu have to go a day ahead of Dromchhoe to set up camps and to take a ritual bath near the Mochu.
Tewang gup Tauchu said that the Dromchhoe starts with secret seven-day Goempai Wangchen. Zhana cham is performed during the entire 15-day wangchen. After the conclusion of wangchen, gups along with the pazaps and zimpons will have to gather at the Punakha. Tents will be set up in four directions and pazaps will take ritual bath near the Mochu.
On the first day of Dromchhoe, after the Zhugdey Phuensumthogpa and Marchang ceremony, His Holiness the Je-Khenpo, representative of the Zhabdrung, reads out the Zhabdrung’s edict to the pazaps: “I have placed my trust in people of Wang Thochenghay, and together we have to defeat the enemies from Tibet through craft and shrewdness.”
On the second day of the Dromchhoe, the pazaps wake up at 3am and reach the dzong by 5am. They circumambulate the dzong three times and gather near the lake. There the zimpons demonstrate with actions and songs how to fight the enemies.
After returning to the camps, the pazaps will have breakfast and proceed to the courtyard, where during olden days, they were welcomed and served with best food for winning the war. The pazaps then proceed to the second courtyard, the smaller one, where they meet with the Gyalpoi Sungkhorp and wait for his command.
On the final day, eight pazaps will do the groundbreaking ceremony in front of the Je Khenpo at the courtyard. Four of the eight zimpons will perform Bae at the Kabgoen where Zhabdrung has his quarters then, offering their promise to defeat the enemies. Pazaps will then leave the dzong in groups, shouting battle cries. The eight generals ride their steeds and move out through two doors, one at the front and the other at the back, and move and take positions in four directions of the dzong. In the meantime, the pazaps keep entering through the front door, exiting from the back door and entering the front door again in what looks like an endless procession. This was Zhabdrung’s trick to make Tibetan believe that there was a huge number of Bhutanese army.
This act will be followed by a religious procession where hundreds of monks with high red hats of the Drukpa Kagyu order will leave the dzong complex amid sounds of trumpets and drums. The procession will stop at the river bank where Je Khenpo, wearing a black hat and great apron decorated with the fearsome head of Mahakala, will perform the Luu Chok (offerings to Naga) and throw a handful of oranges into the river symobolising the precious relic Rangjung Kharsapani.
The Je Khenpo represents Zhabdrung, who performed the same ceremony on that very spot in the 17th century. After the symbolic immersion of the relic, the pazaps return with triumph. At the foot of the stairway leading into the dzong, the zimpons are pulled off their horses and carried in triumph up the stairs into the courtyard where the day of victory ends with celebrations. The zimpons again perform Bay in front of the Je-Khenpo at the courtyard and pazaps will receive a command from Gyalpoi Sungkhorp.
Dromchhoe is a special ceremony for the people of Wang-Tshochengay. It has special significance to the people and the region that fought some of the greatest wars. It is because of this reason that people of Wang-Tshochengay celebrate the Dromchhoe and receive blessings from it every year.
By Dawa Gyelmo, Punakha