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Demise of Tongphu Gyalpo Karma Galay between 2004-06 and 2004-08

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 Demise of Tongphu Gyalpo*
Karma Galay*
Tongphu was one of many valley kingdoms that existed in
eastern Bhutan during ancient times. There are many
folktales and oral accounts associated with these valley
kingdoms. One such popular account narrated and
remembered to this day is about a crazy command of
Tongphu Gyalpo to level a mountain blocking the view of his
queen's house. This surely is a myth but the events
associated with this myth are interesting in that they
highlight some historical and anthropological research issues.
In the following essay, I will piece together some information
documented last summer from some elderly citizens in
Thridangbi village in Mongar.
A Command: More precious and heavier than a mountain
The palace of Tongphu Gyalpo existed on the slope of Zarkula
mountain, about one and half kilometers above Yongkala in
Thridangbi village. The queen was from Masangang in Chali,
another village on the other side of Kurichu river. Tongphu
Gyalpo loved his queen so dearly that he could not spend a
single moment without her presence. Even a glance at her
house in Chali meant so much of happiness to him that he
must have a look at it everyday. It appears totally crazy but
he is believed to have done it daily: he would walk to the top
of the mountain every day from his palace located below the
slope just to cast a glance. This daily ritual of gazing at the
queen's house turned out to be very cumbersome after a
while. He commanded his ministers that Zarkula mountain
be leveled or destroyed so that he could see the house of the
queen straight from his bedroom's window
* I am indebted to Ap Shantala and Ap Tshewang Rinzin, Thridangbi
village for the information.
+ Researcher, The Centre for Bhutan Studies.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
One would perhaps expect that ministers would have
appealed to the king that his command was beyond
execution. People do not know if such appeals were made.
One can only surmise that the ministers were so obedient or
perhaps, they understood the king's intense love, and realized
that there was no way of reversing the command. They
mobilized hundreds of workers and began the Herculean task
of leveling the mountain. Several months had passed and yet
no significant progress was made. The sufferings that people
had to undergo were getting beyond their tolerance. Even the
ministers, who had to do physically less straining jobs of
supervising workers were tired and frustrated.
One evening, as the ministers and workers were winding up
for the day, an old woman carrying a little baby appeared and
sung the following verses repeatedly:
Aow, Aow.
Phuchen Dhelpa Wata,
Michen Dhelpa Drag.
Aow, Aow
Instead of leveling the towering mountain,
Better it is to bring down a towering personality.
Ministers instantly understood the old woman's message and
met secretly to execute the plan. They came out with this
plan: to propose a chogdha (archery match) with the
neighbouring petty kingdom of Drakar and kill their king
during the match. Next day, the senior ministers informed the
king about the plan; the king happily accepted it, and
commanded that one of the ministers should be sent in
person to discuss the plan with the king of Drakar.
As commanded, one minister and some other senior members
of the palace went to Drakar, and informed about the plan.
The date for the match was fixed (it is not clear if the minister
also  discussed the plot to kill their king with the  Drakar
 Demise of Tongphu Gyalpo
king). The Minister returned to Tongphu and informed the
Gyalpo and his colleagues about the date for the archery
The Archery Match
After the rituals were conducted and local deities propitiated
for their blessings, Tongphu Gyalpo and his entourage
proceeded to Drakar. After traveling a few kilometers, the
Gyalpo commanded his entourage that he wanted to conduct
a divination about their performance in the match. He did
this by trying to balance his walking stick on a flat surface of
a big boulder. If the stick balanced and stood upright for a
while, it was to foretell a victory; if it tilted and fell down, it
was to foretell a defeat. But the divination predicted a defeat.
Once again, prayers and offerings of food and drinks were
made to the deities to prevent misfortune and bring victory.
In Drakar, a splendid arrangement had been made for the
match. Women of varying ages performed dances; food and
drinks of varying kinds were served in abundance. Two kings
played as Ma (anchor or a person who shoots last from the
team). The match went on for three days. Both teams
performed equally well and none could claim victory. Also,
nothing had been done to execute the plan of killing the
Gyalpo. Ministers and the archers of Tongphu began to get
Amidst these worries and confusions, an idea struck in the
mind of one of the ministers. He suggested that the Tongphu
Gyalpo needed to forgo his Ma position to bring luck to the
team. The king agreed, and a minister assumed the role of
Ma. Even today, it is believed that a change in the order of
shooters could bring luck to the team. The Gyalpo went to
other side of the archery range to encourage or direct his
teammates after he had shot his arrows.
It was Drakar Gyalpo's turn to shoot. This was an opportune
moment for the minister of Tongphu to kill his king. The
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
minister who substituted the Gyalpo as Ma and other archers
of Tongphu provoked Drakar Gyalpo: they commented he was
a bad shooter. They told him that his chance of hitting a
small target was non-existent; and that he could not hit the
target even if it were the size of Tongphu Gyalpo's giant
physique. This challenge provoked and irritated Drakar
Gyalpo and he wanted to prove that he was not a bad shooter.
So, he proposed that instead of aiming at the target, he would
aim at their king. They further provoked and challenged his
ego. As Drakar Gyalpo took aim, Tongphu Gyalpo, standing a
few meters away from the target on the other side, was
distracted by one of his chamberlains who offered him an
alcohol. In the flicker of that moment, Drakar Gyalpo released
his arrow. Tongphu Gyalpo could not escape the swift and
forceful arrow of his opponent. He was shot on the chest.
Tongphu Gyalpo fell flat on the ground. This place where he
fell flat came to be known as Tingarbi. Ting in the local dialect
of the region means stretch or fall flat. Associated with this
word, people called the place Tingarbi, which means a place
where Gyalpo fell flat. Many places between these two
kingdoms were named after a series of events that followed
the injury and subsequent death of Tongphu Gyalpo.
Return to Tongphu
The injured Gyalpo and his entourage returned to Tongphu. A
few kilometers down from the archery range, the wounded
Gyalpo shook his body in great pain and anguish. The spot
where the Gyalpo shook in pain and anguish came to be
known as Parbi, a place where the Gyalpo moved.
The next place is known as Changchangla. When the injured
Gyalpo and his entourage reached this spot, the Gyalpo's
wound bled like a cascade. Changchang in the local dialect
means cascade or flow in abundance. The place came to be
known as Changchangla after this event.
 Demise of Tongphu Gyalpo
When the entourage reached a ridge, the king's face shrunk
and turned pale. This ridge came to be known as
Nyamsergang. Nyam means deterioration, ser yellow or pale,
and gang a ridge.
The injured king's health was dwindling with every passing
minute. When they reached a place where there was a pond of
water, somewhere near Zhongar Dzong, the Gyalpo realized
that he had no chance of surviving. He asked his ministers
and other subjects to rest there. He then narrated his
zhelchem (oral will). A few minutes later, he passed away. The
ministers tied the body of the Gyalpo there. This place came
to be known as Dhamchu, meaning a pond where body of the
Gyalpo was tied. (Dham means tying and chu means water;
here it means the pond).
With their torturous Gyalpo dead, ministers proceeded on to
Tongphu. They stopped for a while when they reached a place
about a kilometer after Zhongar Dzong. Here they discussed
about the future of Tongphu. They were happy that their
tyrant leader was dead. This place where they discussed
plans and felt happy came to be known as Galikhar, a place
where happiness (ga) was experienced.
Triumphant ministers and the subjects who accompanied
them proceeded on. Their jubilant mood, however, was not
able to suppress the guilt of killing their king. When they
reached a place across the stream, they regretted the crime.
They felt remorseful and bad. This place came to be known as
Thridangbi. Thri means sorrow or remorse. Thridangbi,
therefore, means a place where sorrow was experienced. It is
evident from this that Thridangbi was initially name of a
single spot but today the whole village is known by this name.
When they reached a small gorge further up, all ministers
began to experience empty feelings. This gorge came to be
known as Tongpa Lungpa. Tongpa means empty and Lungpa
a gorge. About a kilometer up from this place, the entourage
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
rested for a while and some of them urinated at that place.
This place came to be known as Zengmagang. Zengma refers
to urine in Bumtap. Apparently, it appears that some of the
ministers were from Bumthang. My interviewees said that
they could possibly have been from Ura. They said that there
used to be frequent contacts between the people of Thridangbi
and Ura. This is further supported by Michael Aris, in
"Bhutan: The Early History of Himalayan Kingdom" (p. 130)
where frequent contacts between people of Ura and Zhongar
area are mentioned to have existed for many years.
Ministers and rest of the people in the group walked uphill for
a few kilometers and as they were approaching Tongphu, they
came across many deer. This place came to be known as
Khasha Tong. Khasha means deer and tong a thousand. Local
people believe that it is ominous to come across many deer. A
large number of deer, indeed, foretold ominous future for the
kingdom of Tongphu.
When the ministers and the archers were approaching the
palace, people from different parts of the kingdom had
gathered in the vicinity of the palace. The news of death of
their Gyalpo had put them in a state of confusion. This place
came to be known as Yomkala, meaning a hill of confusion
(yom). This place is now known by its corrupted name,
The tip of Zarkula that was leveled came to be known as
Wobkola. Wob means depression or depressed, ko dig and la a
mountain. Wobkola therefore, means a dented piece of land
that has emerged out of digging. La here must have been
added as it is still close to the apex of the mountain. It is also
appropriate here to explain the meaning of the name of the
kingdom - Tongphu. Tong in local dialect [also] refers to wild
pear and phu to a hill or mountain. People say that there
existed a wild pear tree next to the palace and since the
palace was located on the slope of a mountain, name of the
 Demise of Tongphu Gyalpo
kingdom was derived from the combination of these two
Tongphu without the Gyalpo
For the next few years, kingdom of Tongphu fell into a state of
complete anarchy. When the Gyalpo passed away at
Dhamchu, he left the following zhelchem: he would be reborn
in Lhasa and if people of Tongphu ever needed him in future,
they should come and fetch him; people coming to fetch him
should carry some pears (tong) from the pear tree next to his
palace; he would be amongst a group of children; to show
pears to the children; and the child that recognizes the pear
will be his reincarnate.
State of anarchy increased with every passing day. The need
for a king was felt desperately. As instructed in his zhelchem,
a group of people went to look for him in Lhasa, carrying
some pears. Upon arriving Lhasa, they ran into a group of
children. They threw about a dozen or so pears amongst
those children. One of the children picked up a tong and
looked at it very curiously. He finally commented that those
pears were from the tree next to his palace in Tongphu. This
confirmed the reincarnation of Tongphu Gyalpo.
The group of people who went to look for the reincarnate
mugged the child; put him in the sack and kidnapped him
out of Lhasa before people had any knowledge of the child's
disappearance. The child, who was then about three or four
years old is supposed to have defied the kidnappers. Upon
reaching Zhangmala pass in Bumthang, they relaxed and
took the boy out of the sack. They saw a bunch of grass in
both his hands; the grass got uprooted as the boy tried to
defy the kidnappers by clinging onto them. The spot at
Zhangmala, where the boy threw the grass later turned into
two patches of grass distinct from the local species. People
called it Tibetan grass and the two distinctly unique patches
of grassland are there even today.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
From Zhangmala, he was brought to Pangkhar village in Ura.
When he reached the village, he told the kidnappers that he
did not want to return to Tongphu; he said he was afraid that
he might meet with similar fate/treatment as the former
Tongphu Gyalpo and pleaded that he be allowed to settle in
Pangkhar. The kidnappers from Tongphu agreed, the boy
settled in Pangkhar and later became very famous. He started
the Dung family of Ura and came to be known as Dung
The myth of the command of Tongphu Gyalpo to his subjects
to level a mountain is not interesting or unique by itself. Such
myths are told and narrated elsewhere too. Besides, the same
myth is credited to different hero by different accounts. For
instance, in Gyal-rigs in Aris' Sources for History of Bhutan
(1986), the same myth is credited to Relpa Tobchen, a boy
who was born out of a fish and later became the Gyalpo of
Zhongar. Some believe that it was Zhongar Dzongpoen
Namedla. It is not clear who the real person associated with
the myth was. Purpose here is not to refute sources. The
historical and anthropological issues that this myth unfurls
are interesting. This narration provides explanation to why
places are named in a particular manner though they may
not be fully correct and authentic. Apart from understanding
the meaning of names, such accounts also help us
understand and record rich history of our villages. Similar
studies could be replicated to understand the names of places
in other parts of Bhutan.


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