Düncheng (མདུན་ཆང་) is a drinking ceremony. Drinking alcohol with friends is a common phenomenon in the villages of Merak and Sakteng though tea can also be served. The Düncheng (མདུན་ཆང་), roughly meaning alcohol party, is a custom that has been preserved for many years in the nomadic communities of Merak and Sakteng.
Düncheng (མདུན་ཆང་) is a typical highlander festival celebrated when friends and family members meet each other after a long time. They usually celebrate when they migrate their cows and yaks from one tsamdro (རྩྭ་འབྲོག) or grazing field to another. The nomads spend two or three months in their own individual pastures in different mountains with their cattle and they return to their homes in winter.
In Düncheng, alcohol and tea are used for bonding and socializing. Putting together a pitcher of ara (ཨ་རག), irrespective of whether one drinks alcohol or tea, people congregate in one house and share the drinks. In the end, they bid farewell to each other in a more celebratory than emotional manner. After a few rounds of servings, the Brokpa people sing the song Kesangla (སྐལ་བཟང་ལ), filling the atmosphere with merriment and music. They usually sing and dance until midnight or the party can go quite late. By then, most of the participants become drunk, some to the extent of not being able to find their ways home.
Düncheng is to reinforce bounds between families, relatives and friends. For some it is also an occasion to find their partners for life. It is said that the custom of celebrating Düncheng might have originated from Tibet. The Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo (ཆོས་རྒྱལ་སྲོང་བཙན་སྒམ་པོ) appointed his minister Gar Tongtsen (མགར་བློན་སྟོང་བཙན) as matchmaker to go to China and find him a bride. Therefore, the title of matchmakers, Garpa Dongsu (སྒར་པ་གདོང་བསུ), in Merak and Sakteng might have come from the minister’s name Gar Tongtsen. Garpa Dongsu will confer with astrologer and fix the ceremony day for drinks of acceptance, also known as Düncheng.
Today the celebration of Düncheng is declining because the children in Merak and Sakteng are exposed to education and the number of women attending Düncheng is dwindling. On some occasions, the Düncheng celebration has also ended up in a fight among nomads. Due to such incidences, many people do not attend Düncheng.
Sonam Chophel is a researcher at Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research.