Om Mani Padme Hum

(Reis) As we go through countries in the world, we look for special opportunities to mingle with the people (and culture), to better understand them. When we discovered the chance to go to the annual Dup Chen Puja (Celebration of peace and happiness), in Bumthang, Bhutan, we eagerly agreed.

The area of the Kharcchu Monestary is buzzing with Bhutanese men, women, and children; all wearing the traditional Druk dress of ghos for males and kiras (skirts)/tregos (jackets) for women.  We walk through the parking lot, passing a few men scooping rice from a huge vat.  Our guide, Raj, explains to us that hotels and schools take yearly turns supplying free food and shelter for the pilgrims who have congregated here for the celebration. We arrive in the monastery complex and immediately start exploring. The first prayer room is filled with students, all under the age of 18, chanting the most popular mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum (hail the jewel in the lotus). The words meld so the chants sound like the hum of a bee’s nest, the sound rising and falling like slow and relaxed breathing. All the kids are staring at us, making me feel like the star museum exhibit.  But at least they are smiling.  The air smells of sweet smoke from the constant inscence burning inside the prayer hall. Which, sadly shortens our enjoyment.

Next we head to the main monastery. Before we enter, we are blessed with saffron water which we drink then put on top of our head.  When we enter, the hall is full of 300 monks, all chanting the same mantra at the same time. We sit down and soak it all in. All the monks are wearing their usual pure red robes, but with an additiondal saffron wrap, making the room look full of chanting ketchup and mustard containers. The noise is hypnotic, sort of like a strange lullaby.  At the end of each mantra, prayer bells chime; although interrupting the reciting, they put a more mysterious feel into the air. The umzey – four prayer leaders – walk between the rows of monks making sure they are reading or reciting properly.  Sometimes drums beat and the prayer horns blow.  Women come in with bags of food for offerings to the main alter.  The Lama oversees the entire ceremony from his elevated, exclusive throne.  We giggle at the blinking lights surrounding the Buddha statue, making it look a bit like The Holy Buddhist Christmas Tree. One monk offers mantra books for those Beginner Buddhists who haven’t yet memorized each one. I would have been absorbed in the mantras, but of course first I’d have to absorb myself in the English-Dzongkha Dictionary.

Townspeople participating outside the temple

We leave the prayer hall and circle around it clockwise like the Bhutanese. We have gone three-quarters of the way, when I am utterly astonished. Right in front of me are hundreds of townsfolk, sitting and praying with the mantras from inside, outside, where they have space. They all have mini handheld prayer wheels and/or prayer beads and are quietly and contemplatively praying. We finish our loop and sit down to rest, when suddenly from the monastery and outside prayer area, people flood into the courtyard. It takes us a bit to realize it is lunch break. High school age looking guys set up red plastic buckets of rice, soup and ema datshi (Bhutan’s de facto national dish of chili and cheese).  The villagers line up with their plates and cups to receive their blessed ration. Everyone sits right down on the stones.  Some of the older pilgrims eat their rice out of traditional scarves.

It is a rainbow of colored textiles and a sea of smiles – definitely a celebration of peace and happiness.

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2 Responses to “Om Mani Padme Hum”

  1. Reis, your story was a powerful piece of writing: you engaged every one of our senses in the retelling and we could vividly share your experience. Thank you!

  2. Reis,
    You are a mature writer at a young age. WOW! Your descriptive words lead us to visualize what you are observing and learning. David and I are living vicariously through your family’s explorations.