The great Punakha Dromchoe

Gups say it has become easier to organize the Dromchoe today

Festival: The courtyard of Punakha dzong was once again transformed into a battlefield as 136 pazaps (traditional warriors) from eight-western-clan recreated the 17th century war scenes on the third day of Punakha-Dromchoe, yesterday.

The scene was followed by the demonstration of Norbu-chu-shani or immersion of relic into the Mochhu river that was witnessed by hundreds of people from across Punakha and Wangdue.

First performed in 1639, Punakha Dromchoe was introduced by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel to hoodwink Tibetan invaders. Zhabdrung had the Tibetans believe that he cast off Rangjung Kharsapani (the self-created image of Chenrezig or Aveloketeshvara) into the Mochhu. The deceived Tibetans returned home convinced.

The Pazaps recreate the scene to show how the Tibetans were tricked into believing that Zhabdrung had great force at his service. The eight western clans or gewogs – Kawang, Chang, Mewang in Thimphu, and Baap, Kabjisa, Shengana, Tewang and Toeb in Punakha represents 136 pazaps, including eight zimpons or makpons  (generals) and eight gups as lama’s representative during the war.

History has it that Tibetan invaders were hiding and watching from above Jeligang, a hill above the cremation ground in Punakha, waiting for the perfect moment to forcibly take back the relic that Zhabdrung brought along with him in 1616.

Toebsa mangmi Gyem Tshering said each gewog contributed between 15 and 17 Pazaps. In the past, chipons (messengers) used to be the pazaps, but that tradition was changed with changes in the villages.

“Nobody would want to become Pazaps because it entailed a lot of hassle,” he said. “The pazap’s family has to find everything like clothes, shoes, helmet, scarf, patang and food. In most cases the family has to borrow cloths from neighbours including a monk’s robe.”

The gup collected tax, Gupgi Kam-Thre (dry-tax for local leaders). They would have to arrange clothes, cooking utensils and tents just like they do today, said Baap gup Wangchuk. The local leaders have to arrange food to be served during the three-day Dromchoe. A special pig was also raised to serve to the pazaps.

Preparing for Dromchoe has become much easier and lighter, said local leaders. There is a fund from the government. Today, pazaps get Nu 2,500 – Nu 5,000 allowance. “This is good for the continuity of the great festival,” said a gup.

Each of the eight gewogs today has a set of clothing for 15-17 pazaps, tents and even buckets to carry food, said local leaders. “Things have improved a lot and it is attracting young people to participate in the Dromchoe,” said gup Wangchuk.

The Dromchoe

A zimpon (general) is led to the dzong

A zimpon (general) is led to the dzong

The Dromchoe started with sacred seven-day Goempai Wangchen. Zhana cham is performed during the entire 15-day wangchen. After the conclusion of the wangchen, gups along with the pazaps and zimpons gather at Punakha. Tents are set up in four directions and pazaps take ritual bath near the river Mochhu.

On the first day, 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 Tshochenghay, and together we have to defeat the enemies from Tibet through craft and shrewdness.”

On the second day, 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.

At the courtyard, Pazaps are welcomed and served food. 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 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 is followed by a religious procession where hundreds of monks with high red hats of the Drukpa Kagyu order leave the dzong complex amid sounds of trumpets and drums. The procession stop at the river bank where Je Khenpo, wearing a black hat and great apron decorated with the fearsome head of Mahakala, perform the Luu Chok (offerings to Naga) and throw a handful of oranges into the river symbolizing 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 to 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 receive a command from Gyalpoi Sungkhorp.

Dawa Gyelmo, Wangdue

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