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Located beyond Kuje Lhakhang, it is an easy 2 hr walk through the beautiful upper Chhoekhor Valley from where the motorable road ends. It was founded in 1470 by the 4th Shamar Rinpoche (the red hat Karmapa), Chokki Drakpa an important lama of the Karma Kagyudpa sect. Pemalingpa later took over and it became Nyingmapa. The iron curtain at the entrance is said to have been cast by the saint himself.
Towards the north of the Thangbi Monastery lie two clustered villages of Goling (2740 m) and Kharsath (2750m) within the radius of 2 km. Further north on a higher elevation Shukdrak Monastery (2950m) founded by Guru Padma Sambhava is perched on a mysterious cliff overlooking the beautiful Thangbi valley. A very pleasant one-hour walk from road head takes one to the sacred place.
Thangbi Mani is a four-day festival which is a display of the rich tradition and celebrates the cultural heritage of this ancient monastery. It is held annually from 14th to 17th day of the eighth month of the Bhutanese calendar. The people from the three villages of Thangbi, Goling and Kharsath have been organizing the annual festival since its inception. The tradition which prevailed a long time ago is now gradually fading away. In the earlier days, people of all walks of life in that community actively participated in making this festival a great success. But now, due to changing social values and out migration of some of the sponsoring households, the valuable tradition is being threatened. The contribution from the community is not sufficient to meet the expenses of the festival. As a result, the festival is losing its original grandeur and significance. In order to revive and sustain the festival, a committee is being formed to coordinate the organization of the festival. The Gomchens (lay monks) of this monastery perform rituals for the entire festival, while some young men and women perform mask and folk dances.
Thirteenth of the eighth month of the Bhutanese calendar is a preliminary day when all the people in that community flock together to witness the rehearsal of mask dances at the courtyard. The next day starts the main event of festival by making offerings to the local deities. On the same day at around 7:00 pm all the mask dances scheduled for the following day is presented to public and guest as well, which last till midnight. The day’s event is flagged off by performing burning ceremony (Ginsek), thus driving away or subduing evil sprits.
On the following day i.e 15th (full moon) of the eighth month of the Bhutanese calendar at around 10.00 a.m. a ceremonial procession from the Temple marks the start of the festival. Mewang ceremony (fire blessing) is performed in an open ground. The Gomchens perform purification rituals while all the people and guests jump over the flames to get themselves purified from their sins and evil deeds. It is believed that if one is able to jump over the flame three times he or she is protected from ill luck and misfortunes are removed for that entire year. That is why people attempt to jump across the flame three times to be blessed for the whole year. Then mask dances and folk dances are performed as scheduled in the enclosed courtyard of the Temple. Of all the dances Goem Bernak is believed to be the most sacred Dance (Tercham).
Legend has it that when Karma Pakdhi, (1204-1283) the 2nd Karmapa was tortured by one of the kings in China by hanging him by his beard, the Mahakali (Lham Rangjungmo), the female protecting deity of Karmapa, reported this incident to Goembernak (Black Mahakala) the male protecting deity who remained undisturbed. When Goembernak knew that his master Karmapa was on the verge of dying he came down heavily on the Chinese king. He manifested himself to a giant sized-figure, stretched his one foot and placed in front of the palace of the king of China while his other foot was firmly pegged in Tsurphu (Tibet). Goembernak’s Trouser on one foot was folded up to the knee level while he had no time to fold the other trouser. He shoved his sword under the palace of the Chinese king and caused tremor to the palace threatening him to destroy his palace if his master is not released. The king of China frightened of the consequences, freed karamapa along with hosts of valuable items offered to karmapa as forgiveness.
It is said that Karamapa flung the entire valuable into the lake infront of the king’s palace in China to be transported to lake in Tsurphu monastery in Tibet from where he would retrieve them. The Goem Bernark dance is then performed to commemorate victory over the king of China and the uniqueness of this dance is that dancers perform this dance with one trouser folded up to knee level while the other trouser is let loose.
There are significant traditions which are worth mentioning. These events take place simultaneously while dances are being performed:
- The temple is in the form of U shape in design. At the two projecting courtyards, mats are laid and two tiny tables with jugs of Chang (locally brewed alcohol) and a cup remain filled all the time on both sides. Some men drink the Chang occasionally and refill the jugs. The cup is supposed to be full all the time. The one on the right belonged to the senior men of Kharsath while the one on the left belonged to the men of Goling. They are supposed to be the chiefs of the community. Around the men sit the ladies and children of the respective villages. In the olden times, if outsiders stepped on the mat they were imposed nominal fines.
- From these two sides there is a time that the men throw buckwheat dough balls on the spectators with screaming noise. This is to eliminate the harmful desires of the evil sprits and warding them off from the auspicious gathering. Quite often it happened that the spectators react and threw back the dough balls when such things happen in the past it was considered a bad omen and sometimes the community leaders imposed fines on the culprits. The fine usually consisted of a bottle of Chang and an apology to the community leaders.
- Another interesting age old tradition which is still very active is the offering of Chang and Puta (buckwheat noodles) by the community girls to the honored guests. The girls offer Chang and noodles even to the strangers. If you get such treats whether you enjoy it or not, it is customary that you give some cash present to them (today the money they collect by entertaining guests goes to the community fund). There is a significant historical background that the community in this valley produced quality buckwheat noodles. During the reign of the Second King, His Majesty Jigme Wangchuk, he always ordered Puta from the households of Shukdak Gonpa the far end of the valley. The king sent his Courtiers to Shuda Gonpa quite frequently to fetch Puta when he desired for a change or when he had Royal Guests.
The festival comes to an end by performing closing ritual where all the people of that community gather to receive blessings and pray for the well being of all sentient beings for the year to come.