Sunday was a day I will never forget.
It was the Tsebar School Rimdro. A Rimdro is a day of prayer for the next year. Our Rimdro consisted of two parts: a Puja and the Main Rimdro.
I was told to arrive at 7:30 AMBhutan Standard Time, which I knew meant 8-9. I was displeased that this event was on a Sunday. Sundays are the only day of the week that we get as a day off. It just means 13 straight days of work, which really isn’t too bad. After we finally began I started to realize what this day was about. The MPH (multi-purpose hall [Bhutanese love acronyms]) stage was where the local monks from the Duwang Monastery set up their altar and commenced their prayers. Their prayers consist of chanting, singing, drumming, bells, two jaling (clarinet type thing) and two dung (Long horns). The dung (pronounced doong) and jaling are only made in Tsebar and are shipped across the country. The sick room is where some teachers and local villagers performed the Puja. The prayers here consisted of chanting, hand drums, bells and horns. The Puja horns kind of look like phalluses and are literally human tibias. Another main function of the Rimdro was food. We had breakfast, tea, second breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner. To pay for the food and items for the event, Teachers each donated 500 Nu, staff 350 Nu, students 30-50 Nu and the rest was of the costs were covered by the World Development Fund. We raised about 22000 Nu ($400 Canadian or more than a teacher’s monthly salary).
During the morning I split my time between the Puja and main ceremony. I did my best to meditate, although the horns, students and prayers are quite distracting. I am very grateful that the teachers and students did there best to make me a part of the ceremony. This includes wearing a Kabney. Kabneys are like long scarves that you wear for special occasions on your gho. Somehow I have figured out a way to put on my gho, but the kabney is a whole crazy thing. You need to lower it at certain times (I never know when) and when I put it back to normal it becomes a mess. Maybe, just maybe, I will be able to dress myself someday. The biggest highlight of the morning for me was the food sacrifice was used to draw out the spirits. It included every kind of cheap Indian factory food you could find including: mounds of cookies, oodles of noodles, a hammock of cake, individually wrapped gum, chocolate bars, a snap, crackle and pop of puffed rice and tube shaped puffed wheat. It took us about twenty minutes to unwrap all of the food.
The afternoon session took things to a new level. We went to the local monastery to pick up what was explained to me as their bible. I believed that everyone was going just to show their support, but it turned out that Buddha wrote 108 scriptures as well as about 8 Dalwa (I think)or main texts. Not surprisingly the Monks keep the scriptures at the top of the monastery up a rickety ladder. Each of the normal scriptures are two planks of wood with paper in between them and each weighs about 10-15 lbs. Students used their scarves to tie them to their backs. I was asked if I would like to take one of Dalwa which are about 30-35 pounds (this gets heavy for the way particular way you have to carry them for 45 minutes). The trip back was something special. We created a convoy led by horns, a conch and a gong. Along the way villagers and students not carrying scriptures lined the paths. One of the other teachers instructed me to hit them on the head with our 35 lb. block of wood. I was sure it was a joke, but people literally bowed their heads and wanted me to bop them on the head. As we took the scriptures to every part of the school, I bopped 60 innocent people on the head.
More prayer and a peculiar event followed this event. The students and teachers had made 108 statues out of dough and butter wheels the day before. Each one of those were to be taken from the altar and passed through the hands of each student and teacher. About ten students continually walked them through lines of students so that everyone could touch them. Some of the statues were of body parts (ears, feet, hands, nose, etc.) so you had to touch them to that body part. I definitely would not say that this ritual was the most hygienic of rituals. On an unrelated note, a large number of my students were sick to start of this week.
After dinner it was getting late and I was thinking that I might leave soon. Luckily, the principal said the most important part was coming up. The evening event had to do with two masked dancers. They were dressed up as evil spirits. The people playing this role had to be former monks. Normal citizens and current monks are not allowed to carry out this type of dance. It began as students began whistling and yelling to scare the spirits outside. The dancers were armed with bamboo torches and a bag of flour. They would take the flour and throw it into the torch to shoot flames at things. All of the male students and teachers began a procession out of the hall. We proceeded to chase the spirits in and out of every building on campus. The dancers would lead followed by students yelling, blowing horns and crashing cymbals. After we would enter and leave a room, the monks would follow and bless the room. The dancers really shot fire at everything and everyone. I thought my eyebrows were on fire at one point. The only fire protection we had was a support staff member with a branch and a bucket throwing water onto things that had fire thrown on it. The icing on the cake was two bags of rocks given to a few students. Their job was literally to throw rocks and all of the buildings we went bye. This was the most ridiculous, dangerous and fun thing I have done in Bhutan. The fact that this was all done on public property is another can of worms that we should not get into. One of the students even stopped me and said, “This is our culture. Bhutanese culture is very, very good.”
This is the first time that I can think of that I have ever been part of such a deeply ingrained old tradition. From other teachers I have talked to, their Rimdros were nowhere near as extreme as this one. Things like this are very rare. This blog does not give it justice at all.