The Trhuebab (ཁྲུས་བབ་) festival is an important cultural event in Bhutan, observed mainly in the eastern districts. It literally means the descent (བབ་) of blessed water (ཁྲུས་) and refers to the blessing which falls on the waters on earth. The festival is neither a celebration of the rainy season nor of the end of it. There is no direct link to rain. Thus, the current rendering of Trhuebab as Blessed Rainy Day in English is a wrong translation.
A local folk belief explains Trhuebab as the time when the water completes a full cycle and reaches the water sources. However, the learned astrologers provide a much more sophiscated explanation of the significance of the event. According to Bhutanese astrologers, the sun enters the domain of Virgo in the 8th Bhutanese month and for a week directly shines on the star Rishi (དྲང་སྲོང་) which is identified with Canopus. This star is identified in Vedic astrology with the sage Agastya, one of the seven Vedic rishis or sages. The other rishis or sages are identified with the Great Bear or the Big Dipper. In Hindu folklore, Agastya is known as the sage who drank the seas and has the power to make rain and bless water.
The Bhutanese astrologers, like other Himalayan astrologers, explain that the star Rishi is formed from crystal (ཆུ་ཤེལ་) and ketaka (ཀེ་ཏ་ཀ་) gemstone which has the power to purify water. Thus, it is called the medicinal star. The rays emitting from the star is said to have the power to cleanse the impurities of water and disinfect the water of any pathogen and toxicity. Water touched by the light of Rishi is considered to be endowed with healing power and to posses the eight qualities of being a cool, clear, clean, light, sweet, soothing and harmless to the throat and stomach. Thus, Sowa Rigpa medical tradition recommends using the water touched by the rays of the star Rishi in order to treat diseases and enhance health and vitality. Sangay Gyamtsho, one of the foremost authorities of Sowa Rigpa writes in his book entitled Blue Beryl: “Drink the water cleansed day and night and rendered poisonless by the shining Rishi.” Such belief is also common among Himalayan people as the following Tibetan folk proverb suggests: “The star Rishi is shining; there is no need for doctors (སྐར་མ་རི་བྱི་ཤར་སོང་། །སྨན་པའི་དགོས་པ་མི་འདུག །)” People put water in containers and place them outside to receive the light of the star and then use it for drinking and bathing, and go out and bath in open streams and ponds.
Some Buddhist followers further enhanced the belief in the healing power of the water during Trhuebab by adding another layer of Buddhist explanation to this Indian astrological theory. In the sacred mountains around Mt Meru, the gods, divinities and saints of yore are said to have created a statue of Buddha Vairocana with the numerous precious stones. The crown of the Buddha Vairocana is said to have been made of the same materials of crystal and ketaka gem which form the star Rishi. When the star Rishi shines above the Buddha for a week, drops of divine nectar are said to dribble down due to the prayers of the gods, divinities and saints of the past. These drops of celestial nectar then imbue the streams and rivers of the world with healing power and blessings. Thus, people drink and bath in the waters during the week.
Whatever the reasons for the power and blessings invested in the waters of the world, the Trhuebab is observed in Bhutan and other parts of the Himalayas as a bathing and cleansing festival. Astrologers calculate the exact time when the sun enters the space to shine on Rishi and following the calculations, people wake up before daybreak to take showers and wash their clothes. They also go out to the streams and ponds to wash and have picnic feasts. In old Tibet, the Dalai Lama and his court would oberve this event with long bathing sessions and feasts. In eastern Bhutan, Trhuebab is a very important occasion for family to get together and party. The first day is often spent with immediate family members and men often play games in the subsequent days. Due to its significance and popularity, Trhuebab was reinstated as a public holiday in Bhutan after it was once controversially removed from the list some years ago.
Karma Phuntsho is a social thinker and worker, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of many books and articles including
The History of Bhutan.