CULTURAL NEWS FROM SIKKIM: Celebration of pluralism – PANG LHABSOL FESTIVAL AT RABONG FROM AUG 11, 2010

CULTURAL NEWS FROM SIKKIM: Celebration of pluralism – PANG LHABSOL FESTIVAL AT RABONG FROM AUG 11, 2010 – grateful for the end of a gentle monsoon this year ?!!

Offerings made by monks at the “statue of unity” in Gangtok during Pang Lhabsol festival - blessed with good nature, politics & finance ?!! (TT)

FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT

Gangtok, Aug. 10: Various indigenous communities in Sikkim will gather at Rabong during the 14-day Pang Lhabsol festival, an occasion to show the world the state’s cultural diversity.

The celebrations are held to pay obeisance to Mount Kanchenjunga, the guardian deity of Sikkim and the common thread of the communal harmony in the state.

With the festival entering its 27th year, the organising committee is on a creative streak to add more attractions to the celebration, while maintaining the traditional ethos of the event.

The festival kicks off on August 11 and ends on the 24th.

“Pang Lhabsol has been traditionally an event which depicts the communal harmony in Sikkim since the time of the monarchy. We will continue to maintain this aspect with full enthusiasm and representatives of all communities will be participating in the celebration to showcase their cultural dances, food and costumes,” said K.N. Rai, a former minister and a patron of the organising committee.

Nepalis, Lepchas and Bhutias are the indigenous communities of Sikkim.

The festivities will start on August 11 with the commencement of a constituency-level volleyball tournament organised by the state sports department.

Rabong, located 65km from Gangtok and at an altitude of 2,139 metres, has been an annual venue for the national level volleyball tournament. But this time, the organisers are inviting only seven North-east states.

Rabong subdivisional magistrate Dushyant Pariyar, who is also the chairman of the organising committee, said the festivities would be spread across the subdivision this year.

“Earlier, the programmes used to be concentrated at Mani Choekerling complex only. But this time, we have arranged for festivities all over the town and other places like Temi, Yanyang and Sikkip under the Rabong subdivision,” said Pariyar.

He added that a Thai Expo would be the main attraction of the event. “Fifteen delegates from Thailand representing various sectors like hospitality and horticulture will be setting up their stalls at Rabong for the festival. They will also hold a Thai food festival,” said Pariyar.

Other attractions of the event are ethnic food stalls and exhibits of indigenous communities. “Visitors can stroll around the town to sample the local delicacies and buy traditional items as souvenirs,” said Pariyar.

Apart from rural sports and musical evenings, the staple attraction of the festival is the famed pangtoed dance performed by monks on August 24, the day of the Pang Lhabsol.

Traditionally, pangtoed chaam or the warrior dance holds centre stage, which people here believe was choreographed from a dream by Chakdor Namgyal, the fourth Chogyal.

With Pang Lhabsol being synonymous with nature and its worship, the organisers have decided to integrate the festival with tourism also.

“We are integrating Pang Lhabsol festival with monsoon tourism concept and have tied up with the state tourism department and other stakeholders to promote the event,” said Rai.

HIMAL NEWS CULTURAL FEATURE

Worshipping Khangchendzonga -The Pang Lhabsol Festival at Rabongla – rich, beyond compare – in cultural diversity and much, much more ?!!

From Quest Himalaya

By Aswini Tamang
Photographs by Topchen Takapa & Arthur Pazo

Rabongla Bazaar - a trekkers paradise ?!!

Sleepy little towns sometimes have a lot to reveal, and Rabongla, a slumbering hollow beneath the enormous Maenam Hill is one such place.

Its almost seven thousand feet elevation affects some chilliness in the morning air, and the soggy fog and playful mist, a common morning phenomena from late spring till early autumn, seems to harmoniously blend with the terrain of this Himalayan idyll as if Mother Nature herself had procreated such an arrangement. But when the sun eventually permeates through the veil of mist, the transformation is magical, for lo and behold, it unravels into a clear autumn day.

Morning views from Rabongla - Khangchendzonga range in its brilliance ?!!

And when the scenery unfolds, it will easily make you forget the woes of the early morning’s dismal weather. Fantastic views of high hills and deep river valleys draped in a backdrop of snow-white mountains can be seen all over.

The walks around here are pleasantly cool and so is the pace of life, so slow and easy that it’s bound to mollify the rush in you. “It’s a therapy being here,” says Vikram, a portly middle-aged doctor from Delhi with his wife tagging behind and shrouded in muffler, shawl and cap. As more and more people go searching for vacation spots in areas that lie off the beaten trail, Rabongla could well end up a sanatorium someday soon just like the way it happened for Darjeeling more than a century ago.

This summer idyll already has its secret holidaymakers as I found in one young but weary travel writer enjoying anonymity above a cliff and marvelling the vista. “I wouldn’t like to recommend this place,” Kuan said. At first, I was taken aback by his remark, but rapidly his logic struck my mind. “I know people would love promoted it but I’d think twice before I recommend because the next time I show up, it would be spoilt by the crowd”, he said.

Mmm . . . an inkling in my mind told me to follow suit as I began harboring imaginations of rose petals being stubbed with flaring cigarette butts and herds of tourists around and about. Rabongla would be another stampede I thought, but then I was on assignment and duty-bound to write.

Worship of the Snowy Ranges

'Dzonga' the principal deity of the Pang Lhabsol in his dance - wonderful to experience ?!!

I was in Rabongla at the time when the Pang Lhabsol celebration were being held at the grounds of the monastery. Also known as ‘the worship of the snowy ranges’ in earlier days, this chaam (Buddhist religious dance) is performed as an act of veneration to Sikkim’s protecting deity, Mount Khangchendzonga.

Unique to Sikkim, it was introduced by the eighteenth century monarch Chakdor Namgyal, the third in line to rule this former Himalayan kingdom. A brilliant king, he is said to have choreographed several of the mask dances performed today. It was his unusual interests for monastic dances and tradition that this extraordinary performance portrays not only the supernatural deities but a retinue of soldiers as well since this pageant then had a temporal significance of equal importance.

The role of swordsmen dancers require much energy and fitness - in the rarified atmosphere to the Himalayan laps ?!!

The swordsmen, today represented by performers, had been real soldiers at the time this dance was created. King Chakdor’s clever notion of incorporating his troops into this symbolic worship was a way of keeping them fit for battle. Hence the reason why seasoned viewers will often express the fact that the hardest role in this drama belong to the soldiers as the drills they perform should compare well with a swordsman’s combat skills. Unfortunately, this innovative king fell prey to the envy of his half sister Pede Ongmu who had him murdered at the Ralong Hot Springs. Nevertheless, he is well remembered through his admirable dances.

Atsaras for unity in troubled times - through the power of humour ?!!

Pang Lhabsol is also about unification which is so very important today at times of racial, religious and international strife. This ancient rite of human integration is now an act of worship. It makes one wonder if there was discord among the communities when this dance was conceived? Or was it purely the will to persevere living in harmony. The noble king ultimately fell prey to the sword he had tried to sheath – another human vice. But this dance has been relevant over the ages and even more today.

And where does Pang Lhabsol derive its essence from?

Dzonga, up close - a blood pact invoking God's blessing forever ?!!

In the legendary past the great Tibetan Chief Khye Bumsa from the Chumbi Valley in Tibet had vowed a pact of blood brotherhood with the Sikkimese Lepcha Chief Thekong Tek. The local deities were then invoked to remain witness to the ceremony and bless it. The two races then became brethrens. It is in that spirit they still celebrate today.

At the dance the guardian deity, Mt Khangchendzonga is symbolized as a fierce ruddy faced deity, his mask is crowned with five menacing skulls astride their equally terrifying mounts of mythical snow lions.

Pantomime Relief

Atchars - a closer view of their masks - friendly like you and me ?!!

Comical characters (jesters) called ‘Atchars’ also regale the public during the dance just like in other religious mask dances. Their roles in the choreography seems so befitting – the main dancers symbolic of the different forces of nature putting up the main performance in all seriousness, and then their brief comical appearances between the acts. Other than putting on a hilarious show, the ‘Atchers’ have the duty to control the crowd and assist dancers having problems with their props.

Pang Lhabsol in Rabongla isn’t just a tradition being followed because it is written on the almanac. To the devout, it is the realization of goals and objectives more profound, and there were many who came to be blessed. For some it was just plain entertainment while for others it was a once in a lifetime experience, plain lucky because they were there at the right place in the right time – just like Vikram, his wife, and Kuan.

Getting There

Villagers all walk and so do trekkers - so should we, at least for good health ?!!

Rabongla is around 65 km from Gangtok on the Gangtok-Gyalshing highway. Taxis are readily available in Gangtok.

What to do?

Walk, of course. Plenty of fresh air and an absolute calm makes it one of the best places for refreshing ambles. You can take short hikes into the woods or get on the 3 to 4 hour uphill trail to Maenam Peak at 10,612 feet passing through the Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary lush with gorgeous magnolias and rhododendron. Another half hour’s walk will take you to ‘Bhale Dhunga’ the cliff resembling a rooster’s head. Also oggle at the mountain range. Khangchendzonga, Siniolchu, Pandim and Kabru in a row couldn’t be more beautiful!

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