Emo Chilé: A Brokpa Song

Emo Chilé (ཨེ་མོ་ཅིག་ལས) is a sacred song sung by the Brokpa ethnic groups of Merak and Sakteng in eastern Bhutan. People believe the song was composed and initially sung by their guardian deity, Ama Jomo (ཨ་མ་ཇོ་མོ). Ama Jomo is the tutelary deity of the pastoral communities of Merak and Sakteng though most of eastern Bhutan pays homage to her. She is believed to be a manifestation of Jomo Remati (ཇོ་མོ་རེ་མ་ཏི), a form of Palden Lhamo (དཔལ་ལྡན་ལྷ་མོ). Born out of the state of emptiness and adorned with the glory of the universe, her face is like that of a young goddess. She wears a garland of white scarves and ornaments of turquoise and jewels. Immeasurable rays are said to radiate from her body. She rides a white horse with wings of wind and her right hand holds an arrow adorned with scarves. On her left she carries a skull filled with various ornaments. She is believed to appear in this manifestation and many other manifestations such as nagas and maidens in order to help sentient beings.

The people of Merak and Sakteng have their ancestral roots in the Tsona region of southern Tibet. They are said to have lived there under a wicked chieftain, who ordered his subjects to cut down a mountain that was obstructing the sun from shining on his palace. The people toiled for years to demolish the mountain but were not able to do so after much effort, when one day, a lady known as Ama Jomo suggested that it is easier to cut off the head of a person than to cut off a mountain. Thus, the people rebelled and beheaded the chieftain during one of the festivals. Following this, the people fled from Tshona with all their belongings, scriptures, yaks and sheep. Ama Jomo led the people southward looking for a new home. After travelling for several months, crossing snow-capped mountains, rivers and dense forests, they arrived at the foothill of a very high mountain pass.

The weaker group, who could not cross the Ngachung Pass (ཉག་ཆུང་ལ), settled in a beautiful wide valley covered with bamboo forests. This place is now called Sakteng or “upland covered with bamboo”. Ama Jomo and the stronger ones along with the animals managed to climb over the Ngachung Pass and settled in a beautiful valley with shrubs and rhododendrons. They set the shrubs on fire and made space for their new homes, and the place is now called Merak, meaning “set on fire”. Ama Jomo resided on Kukhar Mountain (སྐུ་མཁར), which is about seven hours’ walk from Merak village.

The Emo Chilé song is sung only once a year, and then exclusively by women during Jomo Lhasöl (ཇོ་མོ་ལྷ་གསོལ), an annual ritual to propitiate Ama Jomo. On the 21st day of the seventh Bhutanese lunar month, the people of Merak and Sakteng set off on a pilgrimage to Ama Jomo’s citadel, the sacred mountain called Jomo Kukhar or Jomo Phodrang (ཇོ་མོ་སྐུ་མཁར་/ ཇོ་མོ་ཕོ་བྲང་) to seek blessings. The visitors who enter the area should consume neither meat or garlic to avoid polluting the sanctity of the deity, as the deity cannot stand drip (གྲིབ) or defilement. They conduct the ritual in honor of the deity for two days. On the first day, men conduct horseraces, which are held at a place called Serkim La (གསེར་སྐྱེམས་ལ). There is no tradition of awarding prizes to the winners but any man who falls off the horse has to drink ara (ཨ་རག) or local alcohol.

On the second day, a ritual is held at the foot of the Jomo Kukhar Mountain. The men climb to the peak and chant prayers. The women are not allowed to set foot on the main part of the mountain due to the perception they will contaminate the abode of the deity. On the return journey, the women sing Emo Chilé in honor of the goddess Ama Jomo. While people propitiate Ama Jomo through seasonal rituals, Ama Jomo in turn keeps evils and misfortunes away from Merak-Sakteng. Emo Chilé is a hymn to Ama Jomo and the herders do not sing the song lightly. It is said that the song was composed when Ama Jomo parted from the herders.

 

ཨེ་མོ་ཅིག་ལས། །ལ་མོ་ནི་གཅིག་བརྒལ་གཉིས་བརྒལ་ལ། །

ཨེ་མོ་ཅིག་ལས། །སྒོར་སྒོར་ལ་མོ་བརྒལ་ཡོད་ལ། །ཨེ་མོ་གཅིག་ལས། །

How wonderful and auspicious!

Crossing one mountain pass and another,

I have crossed the Gorgor pass

How wonderful and auspicious!

 

ཨེ་མོ་གཅིག་ལས། །ལ་མོ་ནི་སྒོར་སྒོར་ལ་མོ་ལ། །

ཨེ་མོ་ཅིག་ལས། །རྟ་ཕོ་མི་འགྲོ་གསུང་གི་ལ། །ཨེ་མོ་ཅིག་ལས། །

How wonderful and auspicious!

At the Gorgor pass

The stallion says it does not want to cross.

How wonderful and auspicious!

 

ཨེ་མོ་ཅིག་ལས། །རྟ་འདི་ནི་དཀར་པོའི་ལོག་ལ། །

ཨེ་མོ་ཅིག་ལས། །གཡེར་ག་སིར་སིར་བཏགས་ཡོད་ལ། །ཨེ་མོ་ཅིག་ལས། །

How wonderful and auspicious!

On the white stallion

Hang the jingling bells

How wonderful and auspicious!

 

ཨེ་མོ་ཅིག་ལས། །ཕུ་གསུམ་ཕུ་ལ་བཞུགས་པའི་ལ། །

ཨེ་མོ་ཅིག་ལས། །ཁམས་བཟང་ཨ་མ་ཇོ་མོ་ལ། །ཨེ་མོ་ཅིག་ལས། །

How wonderful and auspicious!

The one who resides on the three peaks,

The healthy Ama Jomo

How wonderful and auspicious!

 

ཨེ་མོ་ཅིག་ལས། །གཡས་ལ་དཔའ་བོ་བཞུགས་ཡོད་ལ། །

ཨེ་མོ་ཅིག་ལས། །གཡོན་ལ་ནི་དཔའ་མོ་བཞུགས་ཡོད་ལ། །ཨེ་མོ་ཅིག་ལས། །

How wonderful and auspicious!

On your right are valiant Pawos,

On your left are valiant Pamos

How wonderful and auspicious!

 

ཨེ་མོ་ཅིག་ལས། །བསྐོར་ར་གཡས་ལ་བསྐོར་ན་ལ། །

ཨེ་མོ་ཅིག་ལས། །གཡས་ཀྱི་སྒྲིབ་པ་དག་ཡོད་ལ། །ཨེ་མོ་གཅིག་ལས། །

How wonderful and auspicious!

If one circumambulates clockwise,

Defilements of the right side are cleansed.

How wonderful and auspicious!

 

ཨེ་མོ་ཅིག་ལས། །བསྐོར་ར་གཡོན་ལ་བསྐོར་ན་ལ། །

ཨེ་མོ་ཅིག་ལས། །གཡོན་གྱི་སྒྲིབ་པ་དག་ཡོད་ལ། །ཨེ་མོ་གཅིག་ལས། །

How wonderful and auspicious!

If circumambulates counter-clockwise,

Defilements of the left side are cleansed.

How wonderful and auspicious!

 

ཨེ་མོ་ཅིག་ལས། །བསྐོར་ར་གཡས་གཡོན་བསྐོར་ན་ལ། །

ཨེ་མོ་ཅིག་ལས། །ལུས་ཀྱི་སྒྲིབ་པ་དག་ཡོད་ལ། །ཨེ་མོ་གཅིག་ལས། །

How wonderful and auspicious!

The clockwise and anticlockwise circumambulations

Cleanse the defilements of the body.

How wonderful and auspicious!

 

 

Written by Sonam Chophel and edited by Karma Phuntsho. Sonam Chophel is a researcher at Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research and Karma Phuntsho is a social thinker and worker, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of many books and articles including The History of Bhutan.

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Collection Bhutan Cultural Library
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Author Sonam Chophel, Karma Phuntsho
Year published 2018
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Rights ཤེས་རིག་དང་ལམ་སྲོལ་གྱི་དོན་ལུ་ཕབ་བཟུང་ཞུས། ཤེས་རྒྱུན་ལས་སྡེ་ལས་གནང་བ་མེད་པར་བསྒྱུར་སྤེལ་འབད་མི་ཆོག། For educational and cultural use only. Reproduction is strictly prohibited without permission from Shejun.
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