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The Myth and the Mystery of Aja Nye Wangchuk, Rinzin between 2004-06 and 2004-08

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 The Myth and the Mystery of Aja Nye
Rinzin Wangchuk?
Value and merit of sacred Aja shall transcend all human
imagination;
A mere visit shall bring peace and happiness
Visualization alone will lead to enlightenment
Aja is comparable to the western heavenly abode...
Thirteen centuries after Guru Rinpoche made the above
prophecy, a sacred nye (gnas) of Aja in Mongar still holds a
mystical attraction for many Bhutanese pilgrims.
This sacred nye is attributed to Guru Rinpoche who brought
tantric Buddhism to Bhutan. Located in the extreme north of
Serzhong Geog at an altitude of more than 3,500 meters, it is
a three-day walk from Mongar Dzong. Aja means hundred
numbers of alphabet "Aa" which appeared on a rock surface.
The gorges and mountains in the areas are dotted with nyes.
The history of Aja Nye dates back to 850 AD. According to the
legend, Guru Rinpoche knew that an exiled demon Tibetan
king, Khikharathoed, was trying to settle in Aja. Guru
traveled through Tormijangsa by crossing several gorges and
mountains to reach Aja. Before that Guru had chased away
another demon (dud) from Tibet and subdued it at the
present Gomphu Kora Nye in Tashiyangtse. At the site, Guru
Rinpoche subdued many local dud and evil spirits but found
it difficult to subjugate Khikharathoed. According to religious
interpretation, Khikharathoed escaped the wrath of Guru and
moved to Khempajong in Lhuntse where he established his
demon kingdom.
It is believed that Guru Rinpoche spent more than three
months hiding sacred nye to be rediscovered in the future.
Among several sacred sites, the most popular one is a small
+ Deputy Editor, Kuensel
40
 The Myth and the Mystery of Aja Nye
cave on the bank of Ajachhu where Guru Rinpoche meditated
for three months. After the meditation, he left a white imprint
of the letter Aa on the reddish-brown rock in the cave as a
proof of his attainment of perfection. Thus, the cave derived
its name Aja from the 100 Aa imprinted on the inner wall of
the cave. According to Lam Kezang Chophel of Zorig Chusum
Institute, Tashiyangtsi, who has conducted an extensive
research on Aja Nye, not all letters are visible today, except
for those bold imprints.
Spring water near Ajachhu is believed to have curative value.
People frequently bathe in the pungent smelling medicinal
water (menchu) for curative purposes. It is believed to have a
curative effect on 18 types of diseases such as tuberculosis,
body pain, ulcer, and whooping cough. In the same vicinity
there is another stream called Awachhu falling from a cliff.
Legend has it that the stream started falling after Guru
Rimpoche implanted his walking stick on the rock. The
stream forms a pool on a rock basin, where Guru is believed
to have taken a bath. The pool can accommodate nine people
and person is cleansed by taking a bath. It is warm in winter
and cool in summer. A kind of grass locally called Tsa Awa
Doti grows in the area. The grass planted by Guru is
considered sacred with medicinal values.
The place holds a host of other religious sites and symbols.
They include the imprints of Guru's feet, body, and seat,
prints symbolizing subjugation of the evils, Khando Dowa
Zangmo's foot prints, 108 retreat caves of Guru Rinpoche,
and foot prints of Lam Karma Jamyang who discovered the
hidden sacred sites. They are located in mountains, bamboo
groves, meadows, gorges, and dense forest. The entire
pilgrimage to Aja would take a week to complete.
The sacred sites in Aja comprise of four clusters: Tsekor,
Barkor, Nagkor and Rongkor. It is a tiresome and endless
endeavour to reach all sites; and seeing and feeling of these
sites strengthen one's beliefs in dwelling places of deities,
sacred mountains, meditation caves, holy waters, body and
41
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
foot prints of great saints, places of gods, abodes of dead and
the meandering Shelrichhu protected by Lumo Tagdongma.
According to a research conducted by Lam Kezang, the door
to Aja was initially opened by Terton Ugyen Lingpa around
14th century. He constructed a monastery at Pema
Yangdzong, which today is in ruins. Terton Ugyen Lingpa was
followed by another great luminary from Tibet called Terton
Rigzin Goeki Dhemthrug. The Ninth Karampa Roelpai Dorji
followed him. Guru Rinpoche had actually prophesized that
the nye would be discovered by the Ninth Karmapa. Old age,
however, had deterred him from carrying out the task and he
had instead sent his disciple Lam Karma Jamyang, the
incarnation of Jetsuen Jampelyang, to reveal the nye. Lam
Karma Jamyang re-opened the sacred path for pilgrims
according to the instruction of his root guru, Karampa
Roelpai Dorji.
Lam Karma Jamyang travelled through Tashiyangtse from
Tibet and reached Tagmolung. There he could not establish a
base to begin his task of discovering the nye after he had lost
his way in the dense forest. That night a tiger approached the
helpless lama, made three rounds around him, growled, and
disappeared. Taking it as an auspicious sign, the lama
followed the tiger's footprints the next day and reached a
place called Dechenphodrang. The tiger appeared again that
night and growled in four directions, leaping three times. The
lama then established his base in Dechenphodrang and
discovered all nyes following the tiger's foot prints. Therefore,
the popular Aja is also known as Takdong Nye.
In order to rebuild monastery at Pema Yangdzong, the lama
collected timber but could not proceed with the construction
as no stone was to be found in the area. A local serpent king
(Naga) helped the Lam by providing stones and also offered a
nangten of a self-created Jangchub Chhoeten. The hill housing
Dechenphodrang resembles a lotus flower, and hence the
monastery is called Pema Yangdzong. But the several years
later it remained hidden again until a famous Aja Lam from
42
 The Myth and the Mystery of Aja Nye
Ozorong, Trashigang, resided at Aja and renovated the
monastery.
Aja Lam and Sersanglam Gyeltshen Dorji were very influential
figures in eastern Bhutan during those days. Their
involvement in political affairs of Trashigang forced
Sersanglam to leave for Tibet temporarily, while Aja Lam was
assassinated at Jangphu. However, Sersanglam returned to
Bhutan, perhaps after the place had become stable. The late
Aja Lam's nephew Lam Sharchung stayed at Pema Yangdzong
after his uncle's death. He was well known in the region as a
great sorcerer that he was a figure of great fear for every body.
Lam Sharchung and Lopon Gangchhen of Lhuntse once had
a sorcery contest by sending flight of a cudgel embedded with
the sorcery mantra to hit each other. There was no victor
since both possessed equal sorcery power. Later, Lam
Sharchung died of food poison and the monastery was left to
ruin.
Among the three monasteries located within the Aja area,
Dungkar Chholing Lhakhang is considered the most sacred.
It is believed that the Buli Trulku of Bumthang, Khachab
Namkha Dorji, built the Lhakhang under the instruction of
the 15th Karmapa. Aja was quiet, safe and serene place with
rich flora and fauna when Buli Trulku arrived there in 1920s.
The original environment is intact even today.
Buli Trulku Khachab Namkha Dorji was not related to Aja
Lam either through blood or lineage. He was the incarnation
of Yudrak Nyingpo born to the noble family of Bumthang Buli
Chhoje. From the age of seven to 14, he studied under Lopon
Kuenga Gyeltshen at Drangla Goenpa. He then continued his
studies under ex-Yanglop Tenzin Dhondup at Shalipang
Goenpa in Gaselo, Wangdue. He studied language, grammar,
poetry and literature for five years and had to return home
when all his brothers had gathered for the funeral of their
sister Dorji Dema.
43
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
Unfortunately, the family of Buli Chhoje family had a grave
tragedy due to a matrimonial conflict with the
Wangdichholingpa. They were sent on exile to Dungsam. Few
years later, Buli Trulku managed to reach at Aja Nye - his
predestined destination. Leaving his old mother, Kuenzang
Chhoedon, behind, he made a hut in Aja, opposite to Pema
Yangdzong. He then frequently went to Tibet to receive deeper
religious teachings from various Buddhist spiritual masters
such as the 15th Karmapa Khachab Dorji, Kathog Situ
Rinpoche, Drupwang Shacha Shrri Rinpoche and Baeyuel
Rinpoche Kuzhu Jigme Thinley, whom he revered as his root
teacher. It was his root teacher's prediction that he should
construct a monastery in Aja. Thus he constructed the
Dungkar Chhoeling Lhakhang in such a lonely place without
much hardship.
According to oral sources, Buli Trulku saw a vision of three
goddesses who appeared before him and promised to provide
the stones. When construction began, blocks of stones like
volumes of religious texts appeared. After construction was
completed, goddesses disappeared like a rainbow. In the
mean time his beloved mother passed away. He cremated her
near Dungkar Chhoeling Lhakhang.
Thereafter, Buli Trulku practiced total retreats and
meditation in Aja. He also performed many sermons and
teachings for the disciples and devotees from far and near. He
was then widely known as Aja Lam. Since Aja is very far and
cold in winter, he built a house in lower base of Aja called
Yarab for his family. He also came to be known as Yarab Lam
for his many teachings he had given there during winter
months. Resembling a conch-shell, Dungkar Chholing
Lhakhang was fully renovated by Buli Trulku's son, Lam Dorji
Tenzin, in 1963. Today, Dungkar Chholing Lhakhang and
Yarab are maintained by Lam Dorji's daughter and nephew.
In 1950 Lama Thukten Rinpoche, a highly revered Dharma
practitioner and a disciple of Drupwang Shacha Shrri, resided
for   three  years   at   Dungkar   Chholing   Lhakhang   and   for
44
 The Myth and the Mystery of Aja Nye
another three years at Funyingla (the heart ofthe mountains),
another mountain tail walk from Aja Nye. Lama Thukten
Rinpoche came from Pangkhar village, Lhuentse. And in
1960s Lama Sonam Zangpo, another disciple of Drupwang
Shacha Shrri resided at Aja and Funyingla for five years. Lam
Sonam Zangpo from Kurtoe Dungkar constructed the Guru
Lhakhang at Funyingla and installed statues with valuable
relics in dedication to Guru Rinpoche. He was widely known
as a renowned artisan in the country for his great skill in 13
aspects of traditional arts and crafts.
Funyingla is considered as the heart of all the nye in the area
and if any pilgrim fails to visit it the pilgrimage is considered
incomplete. This place is a day-long walk from Aja and
houses various religious sites attributed to Guru Rinpoche.
Located at an altitude of 4,500 meters, it is also a meditation
centre for Bhutanese lamas. As one climbs higher, the
vegetations turn to alpine Rhododendron, Balu Sulu, ferns,
bamboos, daphne, maples and other medicinal shrubs
infested with leeches and ticks.
The effort of the Mongar Dzongkhag Administration and the
local communities is fast making Aja as a popular site for
pilgrimage. In 2001 the community of Sheri Mukhung has
improved and widened the mule track from the point of a 10-
kilometre Yadi-Serzhong feeder road leading to Aja Nye. From
there one should start walking uphill to Serzhong village for
the first night halt. The next day is an uphill walk to Yarab
and the third day will take you to Aja. Two guest houses in
Yarab and Aja were constructed by the local people for the
benefit of the visitors and the pilgrims. The best season to
visit Aja Nye is between April and October. Some people visit
between November to January as long as there is no snow. An
estimated 700 pilgrims visit the sacred site every year.
It is believed that visits to such sacred places will purify one's
mind and rinse the negative actions committed by body. It is
also believed that merit resulting from one chant of mantra of
Guru Rinpoche or Chenreze in Aja is equivalent to chanting
45
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
thousand times in other places. If one erects a triangular
stone in Aja, it is also equivalent to constructing a chhoeten
in other places. Therefore, it is obligatory to visit the place
once in lifetime when one has the means. The ultimate result
will lead to the eternal satisfaction of individuals and the
perpetual wellbeing of all sentient beings. There are also three
routes connecting Aja from Mongar, Lhuentse and
Tr ashiyangtse.
The Legend of Guru Rinpoche and Khikarathoed
With the demon king Khikharathoed still at large, Guru's
prime objective had not been accomplished. Therefore, the
Guru left Aja and went towards Lhuentse through Funyingla
in pursuit of the demon king. Through clairvoyant powers,
Guru Rinpoche knew of the threat posed by Khikharathoed
who had moved to Khempajong in Kurtoe. Guru went to
Khempajong in the guise of a dark-complexioned man and
presented himself before Khikharathoed. Calling himself
Haranagpo, and claiming to be an enemy of Buddhism and
Guru Padmasambhava in particular, he offered to join the
dark forces of Khikharathoed against Lhasa. Khikharathoed
accepted him as his accomplices after the disguised Guru
demonstrated his powers by imprinting 18 footsteps on a
large slab of stone. It is believed that the footprints, though
not located, exist even now.
Later, Guru Rinpoche proposed the construction of a flying
object out of wood. Guru suggested that since the Tibetans
were very proud of Samye, a flying object would be more
marvelous than Samye. The flying object - in the shape of a
Jachung (Garuda) - was built to carry 500 people. As a
demonstration, he invited the king, ministers, and the senior
courtiers to take a ride. The object took off amidst a big
gathering of people. After being airborne, Khikharathoed
realized that he had been flown out of his kingdom. Guru
Rinpoche then hid Khenpajong as a baeyul (a sacred hidden
land) after which Khikharathoed tried but never found his
46
 The Myth and the Mystery of Aja Nye
kingdom. He is believed to have then settled in Tang,
Bumthang.
King Khikharathoed's legend says that Marjenmo, one of five
consorts of Thrisong Deutsen was furious that the latter had
neglected her for three years and started an illicit affair with a
goat and a dog. Later she gave birth to an abnormal child
with a dog's mouth and a goat's head. People called him
Khikharathoed in reference to his physical deformities.
Marjenmo wanted her son to become the king, deviating from
the law of primogeniture, and had one of the other sons of
Thrisong Deutsen killed. She was exiled for this and
Khikharathoed, already seen as an enemy of Buddhism, was
exiled upon Guru Rinpoche's recommendation. With a huge
circle of courtiers and attendants, Khikharathoed established
himself in Lhodrag Kith in south Tibet. Bent on destroying
Samye monastery and seeking revenge on Guru Rinpoche, he
raised an army, but eventually lost the war against Lhasa.
Guru Rinpoche was invited to Tibet, on the suggestion of
Khenpo Bodhi Satowa, when Samye monastery was being
built during the reign of King Thrisong Deutsen. The
monastery could not be built until Guru Rinpoche had
subdued the disruptive evil spirits.
According to religious interpretation Khempa Jong exists even
today as a baeyul imperceptible to the outside world. The site,
where Khempa Jong was believed to be hidden, is located in
the extreme northern reaches of the Kurichu, nearly three
days walk from Lhuentse Dzong. The area is remote,
accessible only by a crude and extremely risky path. About 50
wooden ladders sustain the path on the slippery and steep
parts and across numerous streams. One false step on these
ladders could plunge the traveller into deep gorges. Horses
can be used only on the first day.
Khempa Jong, although now inhospitable and dominated by
bamboo groves, was inhabited between 1939 and 1961 by
Lam   Sonam   Zangpo.   It   was   a   community   of  about   62
47
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
households, all devoted to religious pursuits. Dzongsar
Jamyang Khentse was born there on June 18, 1961. Four
months after his birth the place, quite close to the Tibetan
border, was entirely vacated because of tensions resulting
from the Sino-Indian war in 1962. Dzongsar Jamgyang
Khentse recollects that there was a complete village when his
parents and grandparents were living here, and today
everything had disappeared like a fairy tale.
The existence of Baeyul Khempa Jong was believed to have
been discovered in the 14th century by Terton Pema Lingpa.
He discovered a text hidden by Guru Rinpoche and its
guidelines took him to Khempa Jong. The text reportedly
mentioned that the kingdom was hidden west of Singye
Dzong, that it had dense sandalwood forests in the south,
and was close to five pointed peaks. It also specifically
mentioned "Kurichhu" and that there were nine hot springs to
the south and three to its north. The hot springs are believed
to be best in the country. The hot springs in the south emit
thick fumes of vapour, covering the full length of a cliff from
where the springs emanate. Three hot springs form natural
stone tubs, set amazingly against the cliff itself, while the
others can be used only by constructing tubs.
A cold stream runs close to the hot springs without affecting
them. Local devotees believe that when Guru
Padmasambhava created these hot springs, evil spirits tried
to disrupt him by sending a bigger cold stream from the top of
the cliff. He made a separate channel and diverted the
stream. The three hot springs north of Khempa Jong are
called Yonten Kuenjung. According to the scriptures, they
had great curative powers and Guru Rimpoche himself had
predicted that Yonten Kuenjung would benefit people more
than he could.
A comprehensive history of Khempa Jong is found in the
scriptures. Near the Yonten Kuenjung hot spring, there is a
huge mountain of monolithic stone in shapes of beams,
planks and other construction material of a house. This is
48
 The Myth and the Mystery of Aja Nye
believed   to   be   Tashinamdzong   (castle)   of   Khikharathoed
which was overturned and petrified by Guru Rinpoche.
49

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