Aum Jashemaam and Archery

About Bhutan

Since ancient times, she has been revered and worshipped by the archers and the locals of Changzamtog. Now, even soccer players, volleyball players or basketball players join archers to seek her divine intervention to help win games.

 She is known to bestow her blessings to all those who seek them. She does not discriminate. Though she is the local guardian deity or ‘molha’ or of Changzamtog, she helps all those who have come from far and from other villages. She is known as Aum Ja-She-Maam, the lady guardian who graces the small stupa in Changzamtog area of Thimphu.

The chorten is located at the crossroads between the road from FCB Thimphu stores and road from the expressway to Chang Gedaphu. It was in the 15th – 16th century when the Divine Mad Monk, Lama Drukpa Kuenlay, was in Bhutan that he designated a lady attendant as the ‘Molha’ of Changzamtog. Since then, Aum Jasehmaam has blessed all. She has been worshipped as the birth deity, a protector.

Former Gup Ugyen Tshering of Changzamtog says that the lady deity has helped their village team in several matches to bring sudden luck and to enhance skills of their archers. Gup Drep was playing archery when he made this statement. All other archers with him agreed to the statement. But he rues that the Lady is equally favourable to the opposing team, if they also sought her. So in the course of match, a person has to frequently go back to the stupa and ‘bring blessings’ from her to the archery range.

The term ‘bringing’ blessings in the local language is “receiving of scarves” which can be literal, in a sense that an archer or a team would take some scarves and asks a guardian deity to bless them. And the scarves are taken back to the field. But then, to show the scarves in public and to the opponents is not sensible as they would do the same.

Kinley Gyeltshen, 47, from Changzamtog admits that he sought help of the Lady Guardian several times by going to the chorten with some food offerings and doma and pani (betel leaf and areca nut) in his pouch to ask her to champion their team. He would then go to the range of ongoing match and have his village players eat the ambrosia nuts.

Ap Kinley remembers the time when their team reached 24 points in quick successive rounds (25 points is usual game set in traditional archery matches) after the players had taken ‘doma’ from Aum Jashemaam he had brought. “She ‘comes’ for certain,” Ap Kinley Gyeltshen says “even if it is for a short time”. They lost the match, though.

In earlier days, for grander matches, the deity used to be invoked more elaborately – while playing against a village from a different valley like Punakha, for instance. There would be purification rituals and invocation prayers before her blessings (in the form of white silk scarves) are received and ‘taken’ in a procession accompanied by singing and dancing.

Even the daily offerings made then were quite substantial. There would be eleven bowls of different food offerings to represent the eleven households in Changzamtog village that took care of the stupa in turns. Such offerings included daily invocation prayers and butter lamps, made by two families who had been designated to look after the stupa for a year. But such offerings, made daily earlier, have now become rare.

Such a practice (which also included the security and maintenance responsibilities with funds collected from the villagers) continued until Changzamtog came to be designated as an urban area in 1999 and became part of Thimphu City Corporation.

Gup Ugyen Tshering says that, after becoming part of the city and due to the increase in new residents, the assignment of the responsibility could not be coordinated well. “Now the original families offer prayers within their homes and during their annual rituals,” said Gup.

And even taking care of the stupa is done on an ad hoc basis, with people looking after the stupa voluntarily. It is because, now, there is no central authority such as Gup to lead such coordination.

The City Corporation has no department or individuals to look after such sites. Officiating Thrompon Gyeltshen Drukpa said that they “have plans to create a new division and appoint a Cultural Officer”. Other than demarcating the site of the stupa to be public area, they have not been involved in the maintenance of the site.

He pointed to the Dzongkhag administration which has the Cultural Officer and the authority over the district. However, Cultural Officer Lungten Jamtsho says that, although there is a clear number of such stupas and temples, the dzongkhag has not yet designated any particular body to look after the upkeep of such sites, after the village became part of the Thimphu urban area. He said that such issues of looking after cultural sites would be discussed during the forthcoming Dzongkhag Yargay Tshogchhung on February 16.

Nagtsho Dorji from the Department of Culture said that the department was aware of the existence of the stupa because of a related site across the river in Changjiji, where the ‘pholha’ or the male guardian is known to reside. But the department, she said, particularly looks after national heritage sites and is involved when there is a need of ‘major’ renovation works and not in daily upkeep of sites. Dratshang Lhentshog is concerned in sending people to man such sites only.

So, the villagers work with no proper coordination, the City is in the process of creating a division, the Department of Culture is frying bigger fishes and the dzongkhag is yet to ‘discuss the issue’ leaving no one for the Lady, who has been there for all.

As of now, according to some archers from Changzamtog, children are picking off any sporadic offerings made there and passersby are littering the site. People seem to be unaware of the blessings that the Lady bestows.

Some archers of Changzamtog said that, unlike other guardian deities who are known to be wrathful to instances of desecrations and irregularity in prayer offerings, their lady guardian has been passive and accommodating – only bestowing blessings, without discrimination. Lucky for many!

 

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>> Original story by Bhutan Observer

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