Sunday, April 19, 2009

Spirited Away

Here is a piece I sent to Kuensel that will hopefully make us rethink some of our superstitions and beliefs.  By the way, thanks Kuensel for publishing the article! (Saturday April 18, 2009 issue)

Royal Gesture Dispels Stigma

The valley of Kurtoe is infamous for poisoners.  There are horrendous stories of people dying or falling seriously sick after eating or drinking from the hands of these people.  One such woman is Tashi Wangmo, 49, of Yogpaling Gonpa under Metsho Geog.  Locals believe she caused many deaths.  Tashi therefore is feared and ostracised by the whole community.  But Tashi has a different story to tell.

She was in her late teens when a childless man Gyetshela and his wife adopted her and asked her to look after their cattle.  Gyetshela was rich but his wife was another woman who was believed to possess that fatal magical power.  Twenty years back when the couple died, people started spreading rumours that Tashi has inherited that supernatural power to kill.  She was ostracised ever since and avoided like a devil.

“My father is a tshampa and my grandfather was a lam.  We come from a very good family.  So I guess it has got to do with what I did in my past lives,” says Tashi, almost resigning to her fate.  “Actually I was told that these things don’t pass through cattle but only through some home items,” she adds.

National Council member Rinzin who comes from the same region tried to demystify this belief system in his book Talisman of Good Fortune.  “These so-called poison-givers actually do not pass poisons physically,” says Rinzin.  “It is believed they have magical powers to do so.  This makes me conclude that things are exaggerated to extremes.”

To try “cleansing” herself from that stigma, Tashi and her father sold off all the cattle, but the locals continued ostracising her.  “If I had inherited that from the cattle, then the nine families who bought the cows and bulls should have taken away that power.  But no, it was just me,” says Tashi, who has ever since devoted much of her life to prayers to undo the bad karma.

And prayers for Tashi seems to have been answered in the recent visit of His Majesty the King to the area.  Like other people, Tashi Wangmo also presented herself with some ara to greet the royal entourage along the trail His Majesty was passing through.  And contrary to the advice of the local guide that His Majesty should not to take anything from her, His Majesty boldly took two cups of ara from her hands, embraced her and authorised her to tell the world that she has served the King in person and that the whole thing about poison-givers is baseless.  Other entourage members followed His Majesty by drinking from her hands.

The next day Tashi made a shy appearance in the public meeting His Majesty conducted for Metsho geog.  She was beginning to feel like a “normal” person.  But she was still confused and her face very gloomy.  

However, after flushing out her story she felt relieved and put on a faint smile – perhaps the first one after so many years.  And when asked about what she thought about His Majesty’s words, she broke down and cried bitterly.  She then wiped her tears and composed herself.  “I thought I was going to die with this stigma.  Zhab Rimpoche (His Majesty) has given me a new life.  I still cannot believe this has happened.  I hope I am not dreaming.” Tashi puts back another faint smile and after a long silence she enquires, “But why is only women ostracised with such a power?”

(NB.  A beautiful movie The Golden Cup was made based on this myth)


  1. Hail to the compassionate King to whom I bow with utmost respect and dignity for such a deed. It is no small favor to eradicate this stigma from an innocent lady amidst many other innocent villagers yet fearful of this stigma. Many lords in the past, many ministers, many Dzongda's and many Lam's may have passed through this village but may have refrained from a DEED like this on hearsay about poison giving and dared not venture anywhere within the doorstep of this unfortunate lady. Our KING - the genuine reincarnation of Gyelpo Drime Kundun has done it lifting the scorned lady out of this stigma and changing her life for ever along with her family members. How can we thank our king for such a deed - perhaps by being more dedicated to the nation, to the TSAWASUM. Thank you your majesty...You are the inspiration la for all of us Bhutanese.

    Your humble citizen (Karma)

  2. While I was trying to learn Dzongkha and understanding the Bhutanese culture , I saw this movie 'Golden Cup' with a couple of my Bhutanese friends in the movie hall in Thimphu and I asked the same questions to my friends , (both of whom were ladies) about why only women have to suffer this curse? .

    It was really a gripping story and I am really thrilled and my respects for His Majsty the King has gone up many notches after the incident that you have narrated. Long Live His Majesty. Long live our friendship with Bhutan.

    Major Shankar, INDIA