12-14 September: Offerings to the local deity

I missed going to the temple on Monday—it just took too long to get down from Yonphula. So I was startled on Tuesday to find a new addition to the ritual. A set of several serving monks were gathered around a table next to the pillar in front of the altar. On the floor next to the table were large white plastic bags and stainless steel serving dishes and large red plastic tubs. On the table were three two-tiered goblets.


The monks were kept busy pouring puffed rice and other grains into the goblets, and then pouring a combination of arra, black tea, and soda over the grains. (The soda was a little grating: Pepsi for the Buddha! I found out later that this part of the ritual is designed as an offering not to the Buddha but to the local deity of Bhutan: I think this is Mahakala.


Evidently, Mahakala likes sweet soda.) When the goblets were full, they would be tipped into the red buckets and the process of offering these substances was repeated. Holy water was also poured into the offering goblets both at the table and at the altar in front of the Buddha (where a much smaller goblet was also assiduously filled and refilled).

The server monks wore long white cloths wrapped around their mouths and noses, tied behind their heads, and trailing down their backs. (This is a later outdoor image, from the Yonphula inauguration.)

There was another monk, without this mouth covering, who directed operations, which seem to have been timed to the chanting of the monks. There was one part of the chanting where the monks (especially the young ones) would speed up and get louder—some of them rocked back and forth as they shouted out the words—I wonder if it was a patriotic chant or something similar.

Later in the week Jeremy came with me, and we sat on the west side so that he could have a better view of the offerings. I did say to him and Zoë that this whole process seemed like a ritual that they would have constructed as children: lots of offerings! More! More! Now pour it away! Now more potions! And more! Jeremy’s eyes were so big the first time he saw it all, and every day afterward he wanted to come back.