The very special dance of Sikkimese Buddhism is coming up soon in late August and will just mesmerize those who witness it
It was in a fairly sunny day in Sikkim when me and my then girlfriend, now wife, Archita arrived in Gangtok, perhaps the loveliest hill cities in north of India.
We were in search of a government guest house, where we were supposed to stay, so just below what can be termed as the mall, we found it.
Having travelled some 700 kilometres by train overnight from Calcutta, then another 124 kilometres from the New Jalpaiguri (NJP) railway station, we were happy to find some soupy chicken noodles for dinner and dropped off to sleep.
The next morning, it was a brilliant sight as we stepped out on to Diesel Power House Road. There was a majestic mountain looking down upon the two of us with a benign radiance.
It was – as someone told me later – Mount Khangchendzonga.
Mount Khangchendzonga with the five peaks showing prominently from the place where we stood.
Mount Khangchendzonga, which much later, during my studies on Sikkim’s history, religion and culture, Yapo Sonam Yongda told me was the Protecting Deity of Sikkim, or what he said was originally termed Bayul Demajong by the Bhutias and MayalLiyang by the Lepchas.
Of course, I had heard the name before from Satyajit Ray’s film but that was as we Bengalis pronounce it, Kanchonjongha. It had no intrinsic meaning. It was just the name of a mountain.
Two months after I first reached Sikkim, I started my research on Sikkim, its land, culture, religions and people
That is when, to study as much as I could, I met Yapo Sonam Yongda at Pelling, in his tidy house at the backyard of the monastery, Pemayangtse, the principle gonpa of Sikkim named after the saint PemaLingpa.
The witness to this sacred treaty between Bhutias and Lepchas was Mount Khangchendzonga, for the Guru had prophesied that Khangchendzonga would be the protecting deity of Bayul Demajong. And the mountain is reminded of the oath during Pang Lhabsol
And that is why on a mid-August dawn I was at the monastery waiting for the Pang Lhabsolchaam, or dance, to begin.
Pang Lhabsol is peculiar to Sikkim, the very essence of its history. There are various Buddhist dances, but Pang Lhabsol is only practiced in Sikkim, ever since the third Dharma Raja, or Chogyal, Chagdor Namgyal, designed it based on a divination.
Thousands of people, especially from the western climes, have so far witnessed the dance. But very few know what it is about.
You see, Sikkim was the land of the Lepcha people, the autochthons. The Lepcha had a legendary patriarch named Tekung Tek, who was supposed to be a form of Guru Padmasambhava.
Now, Guru Padmasambhava , the Second Buddha, had prophesied that Buddhism would die in Tibet, and was requested by the king of Tibet to find places where Dharma could survive.
He then pointed to four places, among them, Sikkim, which he termed Bayul Demajong, or the Hidden Land of Sacred Rice. (We will get into these details some time later).
Tekung Tek was the de facto ruler of Bayul Demajong, though the Rongpa, or the Lepcha, called it Mayal Lyang, or Sacred Hidden Land.
Meanwhile, around Tekung Tek’s time, the King of Tibet, Khye Bhumsa, was leading a forlorn life with his wife, for they were childless.
Then they heard about that mystical powers of Tekung Tek and went to him to seek his blessings.
A year later, Khye Bhumsa and his wife had their first child. And they went to meet Tekung Tek to express their gratitude.
It was then that these families met at a Sacred Grove in what is now part of North Sikkim district.
There, the Bhutias of Khye Bhumsa and the Lepchas of Tekung Tek bound themselves into an inseparable union known as the Treaty of Blood Brotherhood.
This place was then consecrated as Kabi Longtsok. Kabi means “Our Blood”.
And the witness to this was Mount Khangchendzonga, for the Guru had prophesied also that Khangchendzonga would be the protecting deity of Bayul Demajong.
This happened in the 13th century CE.
Roughly three and half centuries later, in 1641 (scholars differ about the date) the massive spiritual eminence, Namkha Jigmed, or Lhatsun Chenpo, who came from Tibet and founded the Namgyal dynasty with Phuntsog Namgyal as the first Dharma Raja or Chogyal.
In his hand-written text of the Guru’s sacred prayer book, Neysol, this has been mentioned.
And this is why Pang Lhabsol is celebrated to thank Khangchendzonga for protecting Bayul Demajong, now Sikkim, and praying to it to keep protecting the land.
A stone throne was set up in a place later called Yoksum, meaning the meeting place of three lamas, and the throne still exists in West Sikkim.
When later I visited Yoksum, I found a small piece of rock right atop that throne, under a majestic banyan tree.
That is the symbol of Mount Khangchendzonga, elevated even above LhatsunChenpo, Ngadag Sempa Phungtsog Rinzing, Karthog Kuntu Zangpo and Phuntsog Namgyal.
The dance of Pang Lhabsol is best left to be seen. But in it, the Khangchendzonga, called Dzonga, with a red and wrathful emanation, and Mahakala, with a deep blue face, make their entries at various points of time.
The Pang Lhabsol is essentially a warrior dance, and the bit where the warriors, dressed suitably, with swords and shields, dance in a fantabulous acrobatic rhythm, is termed Pangtoed Chaam, or Warrior Dance.
I am forced at this point to pull myself out of my own hypnosis, for anyone who has seen that Chaam is bound to remember it all his or her life.
The lamas chant the mantras sitting in a shaded colonnade, playing the various musical instruments. The dance resembles what the mantras say.
This is because the common people are not in a position to understand the esoteric mantras, so their essence is depicted in the dance form, Yapo Sonam Yongda told me.
It takes days of preparation and meditation for all the dancers, especially the senior lamas who enact the Dzonga and Mahakala.
And that deep spiritual essence seeps into the hearts of those witnessing the dance sequences.
(To be continued)
*Photographs by Kunga Tashi, Jigme Norbu, Sonam Yamphel Dahdul and Chungkila
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Maverick story teller, the author just loves turning around what people write into stories.He has worked with several magazines, such as Sunday Mail, Mail Today, Debonair, The Sunday Indian, Down To Earth, IANS, www.sportzpower.com, www.indiantelevision.com etc. He also loves singing and cooking