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From Shamans to Climate Change to hot springs and knee-aches

There are many phenomena and concepts that I do not understand, even now I can only wonder. 

When I was in a primary school, I would go home on weekends and then almost always, I would find my mother suffering from one illness or other – from knee ache to headache to toothache. My mother would undergo a serious pain and this constant pain would make us even more painful. We only wished if we could share some of her pains. 

My grandmother would scoop out hot cinders from the hot hearth in a little tin container and then would start murmuring some mantras as the smoke from the burning maize flour rose in the air. “Sur sur” was all that I could hear her, her tightly closed lips. Inside we would see its immediate effect.

Sometimes the grandma would be out to look for the bonpo (the shaman). Sitting beside the sick, the bonpo would chant some more mantras his hands constantly at his rosary beads. All through this I would be watching everything, disbelieving the power of the shaman. 

“Away from here,” he would tell us. “Towards the northward direction, there is a dirty pond. It has to be cleaned in and out. Arrange some fresh milk and roasted wheat.” 

We knew which pond the shaman was referring to. I would accompany my father to clean the water while my grandmother would roast wheat and milk our cows. Then the bonpo would pour out milk and roasted wheat into the cloudy water and erect a small flag above the pond. How foolish it seemed to me then, as I watched the shaman talk to a being that we could not see? But it was always wonderful sight to see my mother get well and talk to us. On other days we had to locate a big boulder and as predicted by the bonpo’s divination we would find a pole studded near the rock. 

What resides in these ponds and boulders that ailed my mother? What did my mother’s knees have to do with dirty ponds and marshes? But my grandma always had the answers although little did she convince us. The world does not belong to us (people) alone, but it has to be shared by other formless beings such as lha, sen, klu et al. They are more in number than us. If we fail to heed their warning, a serious consequence even death, would befall us. 

However, I am still fascinated by the fact that our villagers have their own ways to deal with the way of the Nature. They learn to coexist with her believing in the unseen forces. For instance, villagers still believe that even a tree has its own guardian deity. It is believed that if people fell trees without the consent of the deities, serious misfortunes would befall on the person. So, one has to propitiate them in order to obtain the permission to cut down the trees. 

As soon as the tree falls down, my uncle would cut a small branch from a nearby tree and plant in place of the tree he has cut down. He believes that the deity would take shelter there before he moves elsewhere. Thus, people are discouraged from indiscriminant felling of trees. This philosophy should go a long way in combating the climate change.

Water as we know is an important aspect of livelihood. Today science recommends abundant water for proper functioning of our bodies. Besides, it is also home to countless creatures that form the ecosystem. Thus, it appears too logical to keep water sources clean. However, I still wonder how a knee-ache or a toothache can ever be connected to dirty ponds and marshes. Even more mysteriously fascinating was the power of hot springs. I remember one winter my mother went to Dunmang Tshachu (a hot spring in Zhemgang) and returned with a better knee condition. 

So, isn’t it amazing that the Mother Nature has almost every remedy for every ailment? We just have to live in harmony and adapt with other forces.

P.S:- This article appeared in JICA Alumni Association of Bhutan (JAAB) magazine, but written when I was a student

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