Faith and Festivals of Changthang | Living with the Changpas of Ladakh | Episode #3Jean Kelley March 21, 2020 93 Comments
Religion plays a very important role in the lives of the Changpas. They are devout buddhists. But while Buddhism preaches non-violence towards all living creatures, the Changpas raise their animals to be killed and sold off for meat. So their lives are bit of a paradox And in this episode we will see how the Changpas balance these 2 aspects of their lives through prayers and rituals. The Changpas actually believe that they are leading a sinful life. This thought fills them with regret, and they spend a large portion of their lives trying to atone for these sins. Almost every activity they do, if it doesn’t involve talking, the Changpas would do it with a mantra on their lips and perhaps a prayer wheel in their hands. This is very apparent in the evenings when the changpas retire home after a long day with their animals. One of the evening routines is for Tsering Dorje to recite a few mantras from his prayer book. He would start reciting the mantras and one by one the others would join in, humming the prayer while still performing their chores. Soon the entire house would be reverberating with the sound of prayers. Every winter, after their new year Losar celebrations, the Changpas perform a special purifying puja called the Jyabten at their homes. Monks from the nearby Korzok and Thukje monasteries come stay at the village for one month to perform the pujas in every household. The monks light butter lamps and prepare numerous tormas and chodpas as offerings to Guru Padmasabhava. And to the beings that reside in the various realms of the Wheel of Life. The upper 3 realms belong to the humans, the gods (devas) and demi-gods (asuras), And the 3 lower realms belong to the animals, to hell and to the hungry ghosts. Chodpa is offered to the gods and demi-gods while the Torma is given to the beings residing in the lower realms More specifically they are given to the hungry ghosts which are associated with addictions, compulsions and obsessions. People who are never satisfied with what they have and always want more may become Hungry Ghosts in their next lives. Sculpted out of tsampa and butter, the Torma represents the negative or destructive energies that surround us. All that is evil, even one’s own bad features, can be projected onto the torma and destroyed. This is the reason why the tormas are always thrown out or burnt as soon as the rituals are completed. The tormas are usually thrown out in the direction where the negativity is believed to have originated. The month long pujas end with the festival of Tangpo Choa which happens on the 15th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar. The festival beings with the tying of prayer flags on top of Pologonka La to honour the Lhato or protector deity that resides there. Pologonka La is the pass that leads to Rupshu, the home of these Changpas. Back in the village the monks are busy sculpting various elaborate tormas for the festival. The main centre piece is the torma of a deity called Troma Nagmo, the Fierce Black One or more commonly referred to as the Tibetan Kali. Blue-black in colour, she is wrathful in appearance with three round glaring eyes, a gaping red mouth and yellow hair flowing upward like flames. Every aspect her form is designed to convey a spiritual meaning. For example, the three eyes symbolise her ability to see everything in the past, present and future. One member from each household has to be present for the main puja. They gather together at the village chieftains house and sing various traditional songs with a cup of Chang in their hands. The main event of the day are the horse races or the Sta gyuks Which happens in the open plains outside the village. Not many Changpas own horses these days. Most of the horses have been replaced by cars and pickup trucks so the races are not as grand as it used to be in the past. But still, the joy on the rider’s faces is unmistakable, especially when their horses are in full gallop. The next activity is to destroy the tormas used in the pujas. One by one the tormas are placed on the ground and the Changpas come galloping on their horses and try to hit the torma with rocks. The riders whose stones hits the target are offered the Khadak (white scarf) and some Chang as reward. The festival winds down in the evening. The priests take all the remaining tormas to the outskirts of the village. They say a few prayers there and then destroy the tormas by throwing them into a fire. This symbolises the destruction of all negative energies surrounding the village and paves the way for a fresh fruitful year for the changpas.