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The Guru Thongdrol

The place was filled with the fragrance of incense sticks, the divine chants of hundred and eight monks, sin-purifying sight of the world’s largest Thongdrol, soul-awakening sound of the drums, the mystique performances of masked-men, prayers of thousands of believers, an atmosphere of boundless faith, and the presence of Guru Rinpoche.

Witnessing the Guru Thongdrol at the ceremony held on last day of Paro Tshechu was never on the cards during my 12-day Bhutan trip, but it started to make sense after I came across these enlightening words of Guru Rinpoche – “I am present in front of anyone who has faith in me, just as the moon casts its reflection, effortlessly, in any vessel filled with water.”

Throughout my Bhutan trip, I was surprised, and sometimes amazed, by the purity of the culture and beliefs of this country. A testimony to their abundant faith is that there are no myths in their books, only beliefs. Add to it, some beautiful vistas and hidden gems to delight every kind of a traveller;  Taktsang, popularly known as the Tiger’s Nest, being the highlight of everyone’s first trip to Bhutan. It was no different for me.

I visited the ‘Nest’ on my last day in Bhutan and was immensely happy to have come this close to one of the most revered saints in the world. Though I wanted to spend more time in the cave where Guru Rinpoche is believed to have meditated, with the maddening crowd pouring in, I had to make room for others.

At night, I tucked myself cosily, thinking about how much I would miss the country after leaving it the next morning. But the Guru had something ‘extra’ stored in for me, which he hinted by serving me the holy water in my dreams. I wondered why would such a dream wake me up at 2 am, but I believed that the sight of the magnificently lit-up Paro Dzong had the answer to it.

It was a long walk to the Dzong on a cold night but something kept me warm. I entered the Dzong at around 3 am and the chants of ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ filled me up with sanctity. The courtyard welcomed everyone with the sight of the Guru Thongdrol.

It was sometime in the 16th century that the Paro Dzong caught fire and was burnt down, along with all other sacred relics. But the Guru Thongdrol survived. Guess the divine powers need more than just fire to destroy them.

This divine, indestructible Thongdrol is revealed once a year during the Paro Tshechu, unfurled on an entire side of the multi-storey temple near the Dzong, making the centuries-old brocade come to life, again.

Believed to be the world’s largest Thongdrol, it depicts Guru Rinpoche and his eight manifestations. For the people of Bhutan, lining up with their prayer cords in hand in front of the image of the Guru, getting a chance to touch the sacred fabric, and receiving its blessings to be liberated from sin and evil, signifies the absolute highlight of the festival. Even the vision of this Thongdrol is believed to purify sins of the body and the soul.

That magnificent, sin-purifying sight, along with lit-up butter lamps, thousands of worshippers and chanting monks filled the place with spirituality and divinity.

Shortly, many more monks joined the ritual and started the holy prayer. That moment transported me to another world.

This world was filled with fragrance of eternity, soul-purifying vibrations of the chants, voice of the Buddha symbolised by the sound of drums, stories of the 8th century recited through the performance of the spirits and Guru Rinpoche answering every prayer. He looked at me and smiled, and the whole place got illuminated with blinding white light.

As the light faded, miraculously, the sun was up, the ceremony was over and the monks were leaving. What just happened? Was it a dream? Or did the Guru summon my soul? To find the answer, I checked my camera. To my surprise, it didn’t get transported to that world with me as it had a few pictures of the ceremony, which were different than what I actually witnessed. I was unable to acclimatise between the two worlds.

But, it was time to get back to the hotel, and leave the country, so I joined my hands and thanked the ‘Guru’ for fulfilling my wish of spending more time with him.

Been a few months since I’ve returned, but even now I wonder – did my soul witness something else than my eyes did? From the time I got transported to a state of Nirvana to the time I came back to this world, I never clicked a picture. But my camera says otherwise.

Just like everything has a spiritual and a scientific reasoning behind things, so does my experience. I know what I believe in more. But you could only know, after you witness this spectacle.

Saurabh Sabikhi is a true Spitian boy who discovered the wonders of Spiti long before it featured on a tourist map. He visited Bhutan with Ease India Travel on a 12 day exploratory trip that showcases Bhutan in its entirety – from culture, architecture, history, to cuisine and interaction with the locals.

Saurabh Sabikhi September 24, 2016