On any of the days last week if you would have gone to visit houses anywhere at the outskirts of Samtse Dzongkhag, you would have found all houses locked because people have all left for Samtse public ground to attend a grand ceremony called Moenlam Chenmo. Now you might wonder what Moenlam Chnemo is. Well! I am not a religion expert and I can’t tell you correctly what it is but I can tell you what the person who sat next to me during the ceremony told me.
It’s a religious ceremony believed to bring peace, prosperity and wellbeing to all sentient beings on the earth. One or more high rank Lamas preside over the ceremony. Unlike other small scale rituals, it is held for a longer period of time ranging from a week to over a month. Public devotees come, pray and get the blessings from the ceremony. Literally it would translate to ‘The Grand Pray’ (Moenlam-Pray, Chenmo-Grand) but by objective it is ‘World Peace ceremony’. Of the two possible names, the latter is used most.
Whose idea was it to conduct Moenlam chenmo in Samtse?
According to the master of ceremony in his opening speech, the idea sprang up during last year’s Dzongkag Yargye Tshogdue, when two member Gups stood up to say that for a Dzongkhag like Samtse where there is likelihood of cultural influence form the neighboring country India, ceremony such as Moenlam Chenmo is overdue. It wasn’t the voice of only two persons but of many hundreds because the idea came as a wish from the people in their Gewogs. They received a cent percent support from the rest of the members in the Tshogdue and the chairman declared it a very pious idea and decided that they would divert all efforts towards making it a reality.
Subsequently series of meetings were held to plan the logistics of the ceremony. Budget was discussed and the members in the meeting raised hands as though an award would be given to who raised first, to say that they will contribute form their salary, a certain percent. This is an indication that Bhutanese people would willingly give whatever when its religion. Then other civil servants, private sectors, corporate sectors, business community and farmers followed suit. A total of Nu.83 lakhs was gathered. This was truly a gesture of devotion of our people for religion.
Preparation started. The organizing team did not encounter any hardship in mobilizing labor required. Civil servants, farmers, businessman, students, police and army they all lend their helping hands. And just the day before the grand ceremony the public ground looked splendidly exquisite. A makeshift plastic covered roof was built covering almost the entire ground under which the devotees would be sitting. The most beautiful object on the ground was the pavilion that overlooked the ground. Painstakingly adorned with glossy Dhar from outside and tapestries of the Buddha on the inner walls, it just looked magnificent. And at the centre of the grand pavilion was the majestic golden throne on which the Je Khenpo would be sitting and presiding over the ceremony.
Just above the ground and behind the Dzong a makeshift kitchen was built from where food and refreshments would be served to all the devotees. There too were volunteers. People willingly came forth to be chefs because they believed that more than sitting, praying and chanting the mantra during the ceremony, will cooking and dispensing food fetch them more merits.
Picture: HH the Je Khenpo
Picture:The makeshift plastic covered roof covering almost the entire ground
People as far as from Tendu (75kms from Samtse) Sipsoo(50 kms from Samtse), Ghumauney (25 kms from Samtse), chengmari (10kms) Mechetar (5 kms) came to make their prayers and wishes but at the end of each day they had to return home. So the organizing team arranged vehicles for them for free. People expressed gratitude to the Dzongkhang administration team for arranging vehicles without which they would have had to travel by taxi which costs a lot.
While for people from Dorokha and others who could not return home every evening, tents were pitched to spend their nights. They were also served meals.
Picture: Tents pitched for people coming from far.
Approximately more than eight thousand devotees gathered at the ground everyday. They would come as early as 200am because coming any later than 2:00am would leave them no space to sit in the makeshift roof on the ground. As the ceremony proceeded everybody got busy on their rosary chanting prays and mantra Om A Hum Baza Guru Padma Sedhi Hum. When they were tired sitting they would stand up to prostrate in reverence and faith to HH the Je Khenpo. Older people collected every bit of energy they had to use for prostrating. Even children, if they had money did not buy toys this time but rosaries and they too were lost deep praying. Students would come right away to the ground from school and sit there for awhile before they headed home. People of all walks of life gathered there to pray for peace, prosperity and wellbeing of all living beings.
And I was one among them praying, chanting and prostrating. I have never been religious this long before. For the entire week I sat there not just chanting prayers but fascinated by the way people’s devotion and faith manifested in various ways. In fact I was already relishing the prospect of receiving blessings from the ceremony long in advance. I already posted news in the facebook to invite people to attend the ceremony.
I took my rosary and chanted as many Om A Hum Baza Guru Padma Sedhi Hum as I could and this (photo below) was the count on my rosary at the end of the ceremony. (I hope you all know how to count on a rosary)
As I sat among the crowd I felt a world I never felt before. There were kind people everywhere. There were people who willingly lend their helping hands. There were polite people. The ground was filled with aura of kindness, politeness, generosity, friendliness and buzzes of mantras and prays. And I felt as if I was experiencing heaven. Instantly I prayed that the world be filled with such places and people for all the time to come.
Because we believe that any investment we make in today’s life for the good of all living things reaps good Karma in the next life which will bestow us with better living form such as humans or Close-to-God form, people, despite of the contribution they have already made still wanted to make more contribution but this time in the form of donation. A corner exclusively meant for donation attracted almost all devotees. The donation was for four causes:
1. For offering meals to all devotees.
2. For next year’s Moenlam Chenmo.
3. For wellbeing and longevity prayers for His Majesty the King and self.
4. For Saving animal from butchering.
By the fourth day of the Moenlam Chnemo, this is what the board that displayed the total amount donated read. I could take the shot of the fourth day’s update only. The amount would have been the double by the last day.
Maiden display of the giant tapestry (Thongdrel):
The last day had the maximum number of people than any other days because the day had two important events, 1. The maiden display of the giant tapestry 2. Administrating blessing by HH the Je Khenpo. More than fifteen thousand devotees had gathered even earlier than the usual reporting time of 2:00am. The former took place in the morning while the later towards the afternoon.
Before daybreak the new giant tapestry (Thongdrel) of Guru Padma Sambawha was hoisted and consecrated by HH the Je Khenpo an up it stayed majestically in the air taking its first display. It was an awe-inspiring scene. It is believed that even by a single glimpse at the giant tapestry would wash away all our sins. After the consecration was done everybody took turns to walk past the base of the tapestry to get the blessings of the Guru Thongdrel.
Perhaps the most awaited event in the ceremony was HH The Je Khenpo’s Tshe Wang (blessing). Starting from about 1:00pm, HH the Je Khenpo walked through the crowd and ended the Wang at about 6:00 pm.