Wow, I just got blessings from Je Khenpo, the highest religious leader of Bhutanese Buddhism
I boarded a bus from Khuruthang, Punakha at 8 am and reached an intermediate village Metshina in 30 minutes. The little village is settled around a T-junction with the roads going to Thimphu, Punakha and Wangdue. We got off the bus at this village because it was going to Thimphu and we wanted to go to Wangdue. As we approached the village, we saw people standing in queues along the road. Long queues – maybe a half a kilometer or so.
The previous night, someone at Punakha monastery told us about the visit of high priest, so we guessed this is where he was going to stop. Indeed, the restaurant owner served us breakfast and asked us to finish up quick, saying that they wont serve anything for next 30 minutes or until they saw His Holiness.
I interrupted my breakfast when I heard some noises outside. People were excited, there was music and hustle on the street as the high monk’s religious entourage arrived. I stood there dumbfounded like a tourist with his camera. Someone nudged me gently and asked me to get in the line. So there was I, dressed in western clothes, among the Bhutanese dressed in their national costume on the way to see the highest religious leader.
hadn’t slept much last night remember?
I saw the Je Khenpa little distance away, and somehow I had goosebumps out of curiosity and excitement. It was like seeing the Dalai Lama, or the Pope of Bhutanese Buddhism.
The Je Khempo, formerly called the Dharma Raj by orientalists, is the title given to the senior religious hierarch of Bhutan. His primary duty is to lead the Central Monk Body, the main monastic body of the country, and to arbitrate on matters of doctrine. The Je Khenpo is also responsible for many important liturgical and religious duties across the country. The position remains a powerful one and the Je Khenpo is typically viewed as the closest and most powerful advisor to the King of Bhutan.
The position of Je Khenpo is granted on merit, and typically is given to the most respected monk in the body. Thus, unlike reincarnation lineages such as the Dalai Lama, Shabdrung, or Panchen Lama, the position of Je Khenpo is never held by a child but always by a seasoned monk. The 70th and present Je Khenpo is Trulku Jigme Chhoeda. (Adapted from Wikipedia)
Some monks were distributing holy threads to the villagers who were standing in the queue. I got a red thread and I asked someone to tie it around my neck just the way everyone else was doing it. It was kinda interesting and the knot was left on the front of your neck (usually we tie a knot behind our neck) so the two ends of the thread hung over your chest. I liked it so much that I still wear the thread! (its been over 5 months now!). I have now sown a golden ‘Aum’ in it, so its kinda cool. If you have seen me recently, you’ll recognize this thread, hehe!
Soon it was my turn to greet the head monk. I bowed with folded hands, he touched my head with an holy object (a wooden penis I believe), chanted something and out I emerged.
I’m purified of all my sins and bad karma now. I can refill the pot again… 😉
So that was an exciting unexpected hour at Metsina, a place where we did not plan to stop at all, but so glad we did!