30 June 2015

History of Terton Sherab Mebar We Missed in School

My mother told me tales about a certain Pangpi Lam, who went to Nub Tshonapatra, a lake west of Haa, to fetch golden pillars growing on the lake's bottom. He took a group of carpenters who were to fell the golden pillar when he vanished the water from the lake. The carpenters were instructed to take the gold splinters from the one-foot margin they were given for chopping.

Nub Tshonapatra (Tsho Na Pa Tra) Picture: Dechen Pema
But the carpenters grew greedy as they saw chunks of gold flying all over on the impact of their axes. They went beyond the margin. Lam signalled the relentless carpenters to maintain the margin given because he had held up the lake water in his mouth and could not speak. When the workers went way too much, Lam had to shout at them to stop, but then the lake busted out of his mouth and killed all workers. The raging water then chased Lam, who now lost his meditative concentration.

Fleeing Lam had some treasures extracted from the lake, which he threw one by one to distract his pursuer. Each time he dropped an object, a portion of water settled over it and formed a small lake. The lakes were called Nga Tsho (Drum Lake), Dung Tsho (Trumpet Tsho) and so on, named after the treasures they were concealing. When the Lam finally reached his monastery, the water retreated, and by then, Lam had only a cymbal with him.

Nub Tshonapata and all the other lakes


I thought it was another folktale until I learned the presence of the single cymbal in Paro Dzong. It can be seen and heard during the first day of Paro Tshechu. That made me interested in the story of Pangpi Lam.


The single Cymbal in Paro Dzong believed to be from Nub Tshonapata

Then I discovered a place called Pangpisa where the legendary lam lived, wherein the name Pangpi Lam came. His real name was Terton Sherab Mebar. I was told his body was preserved to this day. It even connected to the famous Pangpi Reip, the religious medicinal ball reputed to cure any form of internal infection, including cancer. The Reip was rolled out from the dust gathered from terton’s remains.

All these fragments of mythical and historical information finally formed proper shape and fitted together on 24.06.2015 when I visited the very place, which is now called Ugyen Guru Lhakhang, in Pangpisa. Thanks to my friend Sonam Ura for making a special arrangement for our team on the day they had all the treasures on display.

Despite the bad road, a huge crowd has come to receive blessing from the supernatural objects. Our team patiently waited until late afternoon to take our turn. It was worth the wait because the crowd has disappeared and we were just about twenty of us at the end. We sat around the current Pangpi Lam, who had all the treasure displayed on his table.

The charming and witty orator began the history lesson, and for the first time, I realized that Terton Sherab Mebar lived way before Zhabdrung and even before Terton Pema Lingpa. He was believed to be born in 1267. As a passionate history student, what was very intriguing about him was the specifics we could draw right out of the three tiny pecha (religious text) written on palm leaves in his own handwriting. The two were said to have details of his treasures and one about his own life.

As much as I love to share about the Terton, I am scared I might dilute the great piece of history. Therefore I will dwell on certain aspects of his life and legend and leave the rest to serious historians like Dr Karma Phuntsho to do justice.

Terton Sherab Mebar approached Bhutan through the Jomolhari, where he was said to have discovered his first treasure. He continued to Bumthang through Baylangdra in Wangdue. Once in Bumthang, according to his prophecy, he had to look for a girl called Pema Chuki of a certain age to accompany him in discovering certain treasure, but that triggered suspicion in the region. The then ruler in Bumthang, who too had his eye on the same girl, didn't want to believe in such a prophecy. 

He demanded Terton to prove himself to the people of Bumthang by discovering treasure from a nearby lake, the current Mebar Tsho. Terton resisted, saying that the time hadn’t come for the Mebar Tsho treasures to be revealed. He told them that three generations later, his own reincarnation, which we now know was Terton Pema Lingpa, would come to discover treasures from the lake. This only added more suspicion, and he came under tremendous pressure to prove himself by going to the Mebar Tsho with a burning lamp in his hand. He came out with two chests of treasures that he returned to the lake immediately to be rediscovered generations later by rightful Terton, Pema Lingpa.

He seemed to have failed to win the goodwill of the people or the ruler of Bumthang because he couldn’t neither marry Pema Chuki and nor discover the treasure he was destined to do in the company of the prophesied khandro. This was the beginning of many events that were going to go wrong in his life and ultimately cost him his life.

The next failure happened in Pasakha, where he was prophesied to discover a cave of gold, silver and salt. He meditated near the area and caused a landslide that opened the cave door to endless resources, but it's said that he met three people carrying empty baskets on his way to the cave, which was considered very ominous. He knew something was not right. By the time he reached the cave, everything had turned into rock and sand.

He finally reached Pangpisa through Sombaykha and Jabana, the ultimate destination to which he was directed. It was here that he had to wait till the age of 25 to head to Nub Tshonaparta to reveal the world of treasure wealth that could sustain our country throughout times to come. It was prophesied that he would visit the lake seven times in his lifetime. But as restless as he was, and because of his reputation and the growing suspicion even in Pangpisa, he had to leave for Nub Tshonapatra earlier than prophesized to earn his respect back. That’s when the story my mother told me happened. It was a big failure. Thirty-two carpenters and workers were reported to have been killed that day.

In addition to what my mother told me, some folklore has it that Ap Chundu, the local deity of Haa, was said to have negotiated between the Lam and the raging lake when he was chased by the lake. An agreement was drawn that stated that Pangpi Lam and his descendants would never cross Tego La towards Nub Tshonapata. This term of the agreement is honoured by the people of Pangbisa to this day.

It's believed that Ap Chundu had a role in the actual prophesy to accompany the Terton to Nub Tshonapata in extracting the golden pillar when the time was right but Sherub Mebar had taken local carpenters ahead of the destined time to put an abrupt end to the grand prophecy.

Terton,, who was actually prophesied to live for ages and discover many more treasures died an untimely death in his 30s in Baylangdra, Wangdue.

The handwritten record left by Terton himself and the numerous treasures he left behind support all the tales and events in greater details and astounding preciseness.


In my next post, I will share about the thrilling journey of Terton’s Kudung (body) from Baylangdra to Pangpisa and to Paro Dzong within the span of 700 years. Only the skull of Terton's Kudung survived today, and it’s back in Pangpisa, which was on display on the day I visited.

25 comments:

  1. Old History of Bhutan being discovered lately.
    I feel there is still more things to discover within Bhutan.
    While mentioning place, if being more specific, like Pasakha in Phuentsholing other, we wonˊt be left with question lingering in our head.

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  2. Old History of Bhutan being discovered lately.
    I feel there is still more things to discover within Bhutan.
    While mentioning place, if being more specific, like Pasakha in Phuentsholing other, we wonˊt be left with question lingering in our head.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Dear pasa, thank you for your comphrehensive coverage on Pangbi lam. I am from Sangbaykha and the story of Pangbilam was shared by our parents and grand parents when we were small. But it is intresting to learn through your stroy the real name of Pangbi lam as Terton Sherub Mebar. According to our grand parents, the Tsho (lake) from which lam discovered the treasure was from Baytso Gong (a lakh on top of Amochu mountain- we use to call Jo Baytsho). I don't know how far its true. And I also saw the sharp stone pillar (boundry) created by Ap Chundu between Pangbilam and Baytsho near Tergola. When we were small, our grand parents use to say that people from Sangbaykha should not go to Pangbisa and vice-versa.

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    1. Haha yeah its true..i m from pangbisa n our grandparents said the samething esp.not to visit nub tshonapatra tsho..😆

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    2. can you please share this ancient tale of our pangpi lam and some related incidents which took part in our village. Phuba(bro

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  4. Dear pasa, thank you for your comphrehensive coverage on Pangbi lam. I am from Sangbaykha and the story of Pangbilam was shared by our parents and grand parents when we were small. But it is intresting to learn through your stroy the real name of Pangbi lam as Terton Sherub Mebar. According to our grand parents, the Tsho (lake) from which lam discovered the treasure was from Baytso Gong (a lakh on top of Amochu mountain- we use to call Jo Baytsho). I don't know how far its true. And I also saw the sharp stone pillar (boundry) created by Ap Chundu between Pangbilam and Baytsho near Tergola. When we were small, our grand parents use to say that people from Sangbaykha should not go to Pangbisa and vice-versa.

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  5. Good one PaSsu. I tried to listen to the Lam narrating the story but hearing it for the first time, it took me some time to get the gist of it. But you have captured it so well. Keep it going.
    Thanks for being a good host to my family during our pilgrimage to that holy site.

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  6. @Thinley, thank for the comment. The lake has to be Nub Tshonapatra, and I think Baytso Gong may be another name of Nub Tshonapatra.
    I missed on the boundary stone that Ap Chundu place on Tego la. I will try to include it in my edition.
    Just want to know why Sombaybs can't go to Pangpisa.

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  7. Nawang, I am working on the journey of Lam's body through history... you are right I heard fragments of this story before and therefore it's easy for me to put them together.
    Loved being your host.

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  8. Amazing (His)story Passu. Bring out more.

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  9. Dear Passu,

    I have been to Nob Tsonapatta - I was lucky to have been able to take the restricted route to reach there (it is out of bounds for people to go that side) --- over the Gonzola pass and through Sinchuloompa and then on to Tsonapatta. What I want to tell you is that there are a number of smaller lakes in the vicinity of the big one ... so may be they are referring to another lake.

    I also remember I had a hard time getting the Haap horsemen to take me to Chudu Lhatsho ... the Haaps are mortified at the idea of a visit to this Tso because they believe that it is the heart of Aap Chundu, their protecting deity. After cajoling the younger of the two Haap horseman for two days, I managed to convince him that the idea that the protector would swallow up a believer – is a ridiculous one! May be this is the tso under reference. Also … there is a huge tso below Sinchuloompa army camp … that could be the one too. So I think there is a need to do an in-depth investigation.

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  10. A peek into the history that I and many more (I suppose) haven't even heard of. Thank you sir for sharing it with us la.

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  11. A peek into the history that I and many more (I suppose) haven't even heard of. Thank you sir for sharing it with us la.

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  12. Thumbs up Passu sir.

    Had been hearing this story since  childhood n its fondly narrated to this days by our village elders but got the authentic one on ur diary.

    But I have some clarifications to Passu sir n Thinlay of sombeykha too.

    @Passu the first boundary demarcation was done at a place called RAMZU by Ap Chundu. There are five stupas standing majestically on a hill just below Ngelto (drum stick)tsho.  The oral stories n nomads living there say the boundary was demarked using sheep n Yak dung since it's very difficult to get enough stones there which later it turned into stone. U can see it if u ever visit the place la

    @Thinlay of sombeykha. Yes there is a stone demarcation at Tego la but that has yet another story of the same Lama. jo Baytsho is said to be rich in cats eye  (zee) the Lama went to discover untimely treasures from there too but his unsuccessfully story continues n the similar  story of Nub Tshonapatra unfolded. Once again it was Ap Chundu who came for lams rescue, an agreement was reached where byno pangbisa people are allowed to cross the stone demarcation n no sombeps are allowed to go to pangbisa.

    This is according to my source...

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  13. Au Yeshey Dorji,
    If you have been there then I am sure you would have taken breathtaking pictures of the lake. Could you please share one with me.

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  14. Sonam, my source, the current Pangpi Lam, read the story in the 'diary' of terton himself. However, your version has some interesting details too, and it will make good sense to put all the versions together and go deeper.

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  15. Passu sir.
    My version maynot b as authentic but the logic is well applied there.
    I have been there to Nub Tshonapatra and visited all other lakes formed out of thrown away objects. The last of such lake is Ngelto tsho or some say soor tsho (sickle) which is a little less than a days walk from Bjana dinkha lhakhang above kajayna village or from Takchu Goenpa and stupa demarcation is made just around half Km down the last lake...
    Going by the logic there is no reason or way by which lam should reach Tego la which is to the extreme south of haa when he threw his last object in the extreme north west of Haa. Whereas to reach jo Baytsho one must cross the Tego la...
    Ofcourse anything could happen in myth and magic but I was just relating the oral stories with that of geographical logics la
    Thanking you

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  16. Wow...m intrigued Passu...actually we(Bhutan) is rich in historical literature..I think its high time we have History of our own for our children..mosh! Thank you man

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  17. wow a history embedded in a page. So Terton Pema Lingpa is reincarnation of Terton Sherab Mebar then?
    Thanks...

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  18. @Tshewang, It's believed Terton Pema Lingpa was reincarnation of Terton Sherab Mebar.

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    1. Thanks Pass sir, Looking forward to such narration of history..;)

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  20. I enjoyed it. I am looking forward to read more. And thank you for the breif and comphrehensive details.

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  21. Wow indeed a interesting piece to read a old history revived by the renowned author

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  22. Tertoen Pema Lingpa's name is there as predicted by Guru Rimpoche as his true reincarnation in chapter 16 of Gurus biography Kathang Duep. In the textbook, it was a leader of Paro who forced the Tertoen to discover treasures from Nup Tshona Pata breaking the treasure discovery manual. So my point is, history needs to be connected.
    Passu is doing well.

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