Berti Kharchoed: A Bon offering of Berti

Description

Berti village is half-an-hour drive north of Tingtibi town and it is connected by a 5km feeder road from the Zhemgang-Gelephu highway. A clustered settlement of about 26 households, the village lies on the southern bank of  Mangde chhu .

History

The animistic practice of invoking and being possessed by local deities is called Bon choe in Bhutan. It is performed, exclusively, to overcome illnesses among the villagers. It is a ritual to invoke the local deity and cleanse the community of any defilements, or illnesses.

The tradition of Bon offering in Berti village is called Berti Karchoed. This offering is an altered version of the earlier practice known as Nakchoed (black offering), which means offering of blood and meat. The present Karchoed (white offering) does not require animal sacrifice.

According to an elderly informant, she attributes the origination of such offerings to the medieval warfare in Bhutan, during which local chieftains would entreat their respective local deities with grand feast to intervene on their behalf, and favor them in the battles with neighboring chieftains. This form of offering is thought to be a remnant of the medieval practice in Bhutan, passed down through generations, which later became associated with people’s illnesses.

Later on, the local healers such as Pow-Pamo (shaman) were engaged to perform the rituals to appease the local deities. It is said that a woman who is chosen by the deity becomes a pamo among the village women. A pamo, who currently lives in Berti village, narrated her experiences of how she became a pamo through a mysterious happening. She became seriously ill and even lost her conscious state of mind, and in that semi-conscious and unconscious state, she had walked naked through the village and had slept on nettle plants, and eventually her whole body was overtaken by convulsive shaking. It was the onset of her becoming a pamo. It is often said that a person falls gravely ill before he or she becomes a medium or a shaman. 

Ritual

The offering in its original form involved animal sacrifices to please the three local deities namely: Jomo, the female deity; Dangling, the male deity, and Tshongtshongma, the servant. Today, the offering consists of a ritual cake, 16 plates of offerings, and two dough effigies—a male and a female effigy. The male effigy is dressed in gho (national dress for men) and wears a ceremonial scarf, while the female effigy is dressed in elaborate Bhutanese female costumes and adorned with pearls and corals.

A pamo (female medium) then performs the ritual by beating a drum and clanging bells. The ritual lasts for 2 to 3 hours. The ritual itself is an invocation to the deities, and the deities supposedly possess the pamo and use pamo as a medium to foretell the future, or about the present situation.

According to oral sources, in earlier times households would sacrifice 9 cows and 6 hens to appease the deities to relieve villagers from pain and sufferings. The lives of animals sacrificed depended on the severity of the illness of the sick person. If the illness aggravated, more animals would be slaughtered to make offerings. Sources also recall incidents of people losing their lives if the offerings to the deities were not made on time. This practice survived for many centuries and every household is said to have made several animal sacrifices.

However, about fifteen years ago, the 5th Petsheling Trulku put an end to the practice of Nakchoed (black offering) and introduced an altered version of the offering, Karchoed (white offering). The ritual in its present form involves offerings of milk, fruit, local cheese and alcohol.  The offering is now made by lay practitioners (gomchens). Now Berti Karchoed, erstwhile Nakchoed, is only an occasional ritual that is necessitated by sickness, and it is not a common occurrence in the village anymore. Thus, the villagers are grateful to Petsheling Trulku for blessing them with the courage to discontinue such sacrificial practice.

Informants

Karchung, an elderly villager

Tshewang Lham, chiwog representative

Researcher

Tshering Yangki, Assistant Lecturer, College of Language Culture Studies, Royal University of Bhutan, 2018

 

 

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