Why we do what we do: Bhutan has an old culture of wearing Srungkue (སྲུང་སྐུད་) or protection cords. They are also known as Srungdue (སྲུང་མདུད་) or protection knots. The blessed protection cords are believed to have been invested with spiritual power and said to help protect the person who wears it from problems and misfortunes.
The material and make of the cord
The protection cords are generally made from cotton, wool or silk threads or narrow stripes of cloth. Different colours are used to represent different deities and rituals. The cords are normally of one colour, which is associated with the deity, such as red for Buddha Amitayus, but some cords are made of threads of multiple colours. The colours represent the enlightened body, speech, mind, qualities and activities or the five transcendental wisdoms or the four enlightened activities in tantric Buddhism.
The most common knot resembles a vajra or thunderbolt, which symbolizes the indestructible and adamantine nature of the ultimate reality. It also represents the innate power and essence of the enlightenment of the Buddhas. Some cords have one knot while others may have three, five, nine or as many as twenty-one knots.
Some cords are known as Tshedue or (ཚེ་མདུད་) life cords and are produced to help elongate people’s life and come with particular kind of knot relevant to long life. According to some people, the knot of the life cord is said to resemble the vase containing the nectar of immortality while others say the knot resembles the syllable Nrih (ཎྲི་ )the essence of human life force. Knots may also represent power, prosperity or intelligence.
The scorpion knot in some rituals, for instance, is associated with the practice of the wrathful guru practice in the Nyingma tradition. The knot represents the scorpion, which is considered to be an emanation of Guru Rinpoche in order to overcome non-human evil spirits such as gyalpo, gongpo, theurang and damsi. During an empowerment ceremony, a thread of five colours representing the enlightened body, speech, mind, qualities and activities of the tantric master is used. The cord is roughly the length of the recipient’s height and then folded into three and normally worn on the left arm.
The process of sacralization
The cords are not worn just as a token or symbol of protection or powerful forces. After having prepared the threads with the relevant knots in a sacrosanct and respectful manner, a lama who possesses spiritual power goes into a meditative state of visualization and recitation of mantras to consecrate them. The lama invites the relevant Buddhas or deities, invokes their blessings and uses the power of mantra spells to bless the cords. Using the power of his or her visualization, the Buddhas, deities and mantras are dissolved inseparably into the cords in the form of sublime forms, letters, rays of light, etc. As a sign of injecting the power and blessings, the lama often blows the cords. Thus, the cords are also known as Jagdue (ལྗགས་མདུད་) or tongue cords because mantra blown is honorically called Jagnga (ལྗགས་མདུད་). The lama commands the harmful spirits against harming the people wearing blessed cords who are under his or her protection.
The purpose of the protection cords
The main purpose of the blessed protection cords is to protect the body and the life of the person who is wearing it from external mishaps, human and non-human harm-doers, and internal problems such as illnesses and misfortunes. The threads are invested with spiritual power. One has to have faith in the efficacy of the cords and respect them in order to gain optimal benefit from them. Traditional Bhutanese tell many stories of how people are protected by such Srungkue and give immense credit to their power. At the least, the Srungdue is a reminder of the Buddhas and their enlightened power for those who understand the presence of the Buddha’s energy in myriad forms.