When in Bhutan, one constantly experiences moments of serendipity. Shedding the western desire to stick to a schedule allows one to experience these moments and open up to some pretty wonderful things. Such was the case on the first day with our Class III kayaking and cultural group. We were en route to our hotel after picking everyone up at the airport. Glancing across the valley toward the Paro Dzong (fortress), I saw that a 3-story tapestry (called a Thangka) was unfurled and on display. These huge panels are the end product of many months of labor, hand appliquéing and embroidering figures and symbols of religious significance. A Thangka is taken out of storage only one day a year for a few hours. This is a special Bhuddist ceremony, a time of celebration and blessings. For a chillip (that’s us) to see one in person is rare. We quickly detoured over to the Dzong.
What little we could glean about this particular Thangka is that it was made by the community and presented to the Dzong one year earlier. Its significance was the blessing of long life. It had been on display once, exactly a year prior. It’s annual hanging was an unannounced event, and our group was but a handful of westerners that made up the small crowd that was there. The locals were dressed in their finest traditional clothes; men in their gos and kabne shawls while the women were in kira skirts, teago jackets and rachung scarfs.
It is considered a blessing as well as a means of gaining merit to be in the presence of one of these large Thondrels. People prostrated facing the thangka, lit butter lamps, received blessings from monks and, one by one, approached the thangka so as to touch their forehead to the underside of the edge of the cloth.
Almost immediately we saw the monks were getting into position to roll the thangka in a extremely prescribed manner in order to return it to storage inside the Dzong.
A row of monks and others lined up shoulder to shoulder across the width of the base of the enormous panel and, under the commands of a head lama, began a careful and coordinated effort to fold it as it was lowered from above.
From there it was placed on a sheet of fabric, folded lengthwise many times and wrapped in a fabric casing. The immense and heavy package was hoisted onto the shoulders of mostly monks and a procession lead by a small band of musicians, flag bearers, locals and religious officials marched up the stairs of the fortress where it will remain until next year.
Truly a significant and “auspicious” event for the start of our trip and, in some ways, just another day in the life of Bhutan. We all knew this was going to be a good trip.
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