Thursday, 1 October 2009

Bhutan Field Report: Ura Goempa

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Besides the tsechus festivals in Wangdue and Tamshing, we were privileged in attending a funerary ritual at the Ura monastery. It appears that a prominent judge in the Ura valley region had died, and funerary rites were being held at the ancient monastery and goempa, as we arrived. Having secured the permission from the head monk of the temple, we trooped in the main chamber along with around 30 monks, who started chanting.

We were told that this was the first time that foreign photographers were allowed to photograph inside the goempa (temple) as it hold extremely sacred wall murals. We had given our assurances that we would not photograph them. The ritual was the first of its kind that I've ever witnessed in Bhutan. It involved monks stretching a sacred string from the altar where the holy statutes are kept to the seat of the head monk. This string is designed to facilitate the transmission of the deceased soul to the heavens.

Another interesting event was the monks' debate at the Kharchhu monastery, which overlooks the town of Jakar. Around 300 monks meet in its main courtyard and debate philosophical issues of the Buddhist tradition. The debate is held in Sanskrit language and is intensely heated. This is another event I've never witnessed before. Depending on the quality and diversity of the images I've captured, I'll probably produce a multimedia essay on this particular debate in due course, as I've also recorded some of the audio.

While waiting for a lunch of pizza and spaghetti bolognaise at the Swiss Guest House Restaurant, I was interviewed by the Bhutan National Television.

We are two-thirds through our photo-expedition, and many of us have exceeded 100 gigabyte in images already!