Pang Lhabsol Festival of Sikkim
Sikkim annually celebrates the festival of Pang Lhabsol which falls on the fifteenth day of the seventh month according to the Tibetan calendar. It is not just one of the biggest festivals of Sikkim but also a platform through which communal harmony is spurred. Every year Pang Lhabsol is celebrated with much fun-fare and with elaborate arrangements by the state government.
This year on 16th of September, the third and the final day of the Pang Lhabsol was celebrated at The Tsuklakhang (Royal Chapel) Monastery located in the capital city of Gangtok along with other places in the Sikkim.
Pang Lhabsol is a religious festival and in it people pay homage to the guardian deities which include, Dzonga, who is a local guardian deity, Gonpo which is Mahakala in Sanskrit and the Dragpo Deshi, the guardians of the four directions.
The rituals associated with the festival of Pang Lhabsol in many ways tell the story of harmony with nature and about human bonding of brotherhood in Sikkim. The legends associated with Pang Lhabsol include stories of the Bhutia community and also of the Lepchas. In Sikkim, the Nyingma sect, which is one of the oldest four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism is followed.
There are legends associated with the festival and it involves both the Lepcha and Bhutia in Sikkim. In one of the legends, it is believed that in the second half of the eighth century before his sojourn to Sikkim, Guru Padma Sambhava was invited to Tibet to construct the Shamyeh Gumpa (monastry). The Tibetan royal family was facing difficulties in the form of evil spirits and it is said that Guru Padma Sambhava used his tantric mantras to ward off the spirits.
After Tibet Guru Padma Sambhava came to Sikkim and he declared it as the most sacred of the seven hidden land. It is believed that he secretly hide many religious scriptures and many other things of religious items in Sikkim, so that in future when people would refuse to accept religious teachings, these scriptures would guide humanity. Guru Padmasambhava also used his tantric knowledge and brought many demons and spirits to his control and conferred them the duty of protecting Sikkim and these demons and spirits assumes the role of Gods and Goddesses. These Gods and Goddesses as guardians were entrusted to maintain good harvests and plenty of rainfall and also to protect the state from natural calamities. These guardian deities were promised to be worshipped on an annual basis and these laid the tradition of Pang Lhabsol.
The Lepcha legend of Pang Lhabsol goes back to the 13th century when a prince of of Kham Minyak house(Presently in Tibet) while on pilgrimage in Tibet had performed a miracle by raising the main pillar of Sakya Monastry single hand. He was therefore given the title of Khye-Bum-Sa meaning ‘the strength of one lakh men’ by Sakya Lama and was offered his daughter for marriage which Khye-Bum-Sa accepted. The newlywed couple settled at Phari in Chumbi Valley(presently in Tibet). The couple had no child and therefore after consulting religious authorities saw a prophecy where Lepcha seer in the dying lands southwards would be able to give the boon of child. Khye Bum-Sa proceeded accordingly southwards of Tibet and reached present day Lingchom area by sheer fulfillment of supernatural events. Here Khye Bhum-Sa met a hoary headed couple engaged in cultivation and he enquired about the prophesy. The hoary headed couple led the strangers to a small hut like cave Phyak-Tse below Phiongong at present Rong –Pa. There they saw the hoary headed man wearing his native apparel and was sitting on a raised throne and he was Thekong Tek, Lepcha Chief of Sikkim. The Lepcha Chief blessed the couple and upon returning to Tibet the couple had a son. Khye Bhum-Sa visited the Lepcha Chief again to express their gratitude. It was then that the Thekong Tek insisted for oath of ‘Blood Brotherhood’ between him and Khye Bumsa.
Thekong Tek and Khye Bumsa sat on a raw animal hide with the intestine of the animal tied around them and blood splattered all around and took the oath of ‘Blood Brotherhood’ under the witness of Mt. Khanchendzonga. To perpetuate the treaty and its objective of unity, peace and harmony amongst the future generation of the land, a symbolic stone was erected as per tradition with blood splattered over it. The place where the oath was taken is presently known as ‘Kabi Longtsok’ in North Sikkim. ‘Kabi’ meaning our blood, ‘long’ meaning stone and ‘Tsok’ meaning erect in Lepcha. Altogether meaning ‘the erect stone with our blood which is an oath sworn’. According to this legend Pang Lhabsol is celebrated annually commemorating this oath taking.
Though, the festival has history related to Buddhist communities like Bhutia and Lepcha, the participation of Hindu community known as Nepalese could not be ignored. Sikkim constitutes three communities namely Bhutia, Lepcha and Nepali. And all these communities come together to celebrate this festival. Pang Lhabsol in this sense has become a means for the people in Sikkim to showcase their cultural and communal harmony.
Deep Moni Gogoi, Ugen Bhutia
(Deep Moni Gogoi and Ugen Bhutia are PhD Scholars , Department of History of Sikkim Central University. The can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com)