Most communities in Haa District celebrate Bönkor (བོན་སྐོར) once every three years. Different communities have slightly different ways of conducting Bönkor. Kibri Bönkor , Damchu Bönkor , Tshapel Bönkor and Kana Bönkor are held on the 11th day of the 12th lunar month of the Bhutanese calendar while Bali Bönkor is celebrated on the 5th day of the 1st month of Bhutanese calendar.
Yangthang village is a three-kilometer drive from Haa town. There are fifty-two households in the village. Local people say that the Yangthang Bönkor celebration is linked to the war they fought with the Tibetans. It is believed that the people of Yangthang played a critical role in the battle with Tibetans as soldiers or pazaps (དཔའ་མཛངས་པ་). It is believed that Bönkor is a victory celebration. Yangthang Bönkoris held once in every three years. For this particular event, pawo (དཔའ་བོ) and neljorm (རྣལ་འབྱོརམོ) shamans are invited from Paro. The household identified as the host for the pawo and neljorm has to travel to Paro and bring them to and from Paro. Each year’s host is selected on a rotational basis among community members.
The elders account that the Bönkor was in practice from the time of Jigme Namgyal in the nineteenth century. Although there is no surviving documentation regarding its origins, people believe that the residents of Yangthang received an order from high command to start holding the event. Bönkor starts in the evening and continues throughout the following day. Pawo and Neljorm shamans mediate in the neykhang (གནས་ཁང་) shrine from evening and spend the night there. Pazap warriors will also gather in the evening of the first day. From the first evening until the end of the event, the pazaps are not allowed to sleep with their wives. The actual proceedings of Bönkor begin by the pazaps and neljorm throwing the lü tor (གླུད་གཏོར), or ritual effigy, in a designated place. However, the pawo would stay back in the neykhang. The following day, the proceedings begin with preparation to throw away another lü. This time both pawo and neljorm accompany the lü. All the pazaps are equipped the weapons that also accompany the pawo and neljorm.
The day would be filled with celebrations, such as dances, a debate between pawo and neljorm, and a khadar offering to pawo and neljorm. All the people gathered there will make nyendar (སྙན་དར) or token cash offerings and see what good and bad things the pawo and neljorm would predict for the coming year. On this day the pawo and neljorm will also predict what good and bad things may fall upon the community in that year. Based on the predictions, the community takes precautionary measures by performing remedial rituals (རིམ་གྲོ).
Sonam Chophel was a researcher at Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation.
Subjects Tibet and Himalayas