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Dun Krothsang: A Ritual to Expel Spirits

The practice of Dun Krothsang, or chasing away ghosts, is a folk ritual observed in Ura that is believed to expel evil spirits from the village. It is a ritual exclusively carried out by men and takes place over the course of one winter night.

The ritual takes place on the eve of the Rabney (རབ་གནས་) festival in the adjacent valley of Shingkhar. The people of Ura believe that if they did not conduct Dun Krothsang, the evil spirits would leave Shingkhar, cross the pass and come to Ura. The ritual enables the community to repel the evil spirits before they have the chance to have an impact on the residents of Ura.                                                    

On the night of the ritual, men of all age groups gather in an open space, often an empty garden, in the middle of the village. They bring wood from home to create a bonfire to keep themselves warm and engage in various forms of entertainment. Older men usually goad the younger boys to engage in physical contests such as bullfighting and wrestling, and solve riddles and quizzes. The men read the position of the stars to tell the time. Around midnight, small groups of men go out and stack fuel for bonfires at the main village crossroads. They might also pick up old, worn out bamboo baskets as well as boxes and mix them with dry hay. If available, they might include small amounts of explosives or fireworks in the pile.

Sometime after midnight, the men split into several groups and are assigned to cover specific sections of the village. Each group is led by an older member of the community and carry a long torch made from sliced pieces of dry fir. The men all gather quietly at the top of the village, where the drungpa village elder is believed to have lived since medieval times. Sneaking close to the window of the drungpa’s house, which is still occupied by one of the families, one man lets out a shrill, mournful cry, saying the drungpa’s house is on fire. This is believed to push the evil spirits out of the house without having to disturb the human residence of the drungpa’s house.

As soon as the cry is uttered, the men break up into their specified groups and walk through the village, making fierce noises, whistling, beating utensils and drums, and banging doors and windows in a show of force to frighten the evil spirits. They make noise in front of every house, and at the main crossroads they create bonfires. In this manner, they pass by every house in the whole village. After this ‘exorcism tour’, they meet at the edge of the village along the main road to Shingkhar. There, they create the final bonfire that is thought to chase the evil spirits back to from where they came, and the men chant the verse: “May the gods be victorious, and the devils be vanquished.” While some of the older men return home afterwards, most of the men then sleep in haystacks or somewhere else outdoors; they choose not to return home in case an evil spirit is able to follow them.

The next evening, after work is over, the men gather in whichever household is chosen  to be that year’s host. The older men then instruct the younger men to carry various containers and go from house to house to collect fees for driving away the evil spirits. The fees can consist of grains for brewing alcohol, rice or buckwheat flour, a lump of butter, a ball of cheese or an egg, a piece of meat, and/or some vegetables. They are also allowed to collect firewood from different houses without permission although it’s understood they should not take too much from any single house.

As the younger men conduct their rounds, they chant ‘chew chew’ verses as they enter the homes. Though chanted in the Ura dialect of the Bumthang language, the lyrics contain many archaic words that are not clearly understood today. The verses state that peoples’ words should be heard and the dogs’ barks must be avoided, and that visitors must look for fire above the fireplace and water near the hearth. As they finish their chants, they rush through the door and gently and repeatedly stomp on the floor saying “chew, chew, chew”. Thus, the rounds are named after this verse. After the chanting, they collect the fees and move to the next house until they have collected enough for everyone’s meal. They return to the host’s house, and he begins to cook their dinner while everyone else engages in various indoor games, riddles, and quizzes. The dinner is traditionally comprised of unleavened buckwheat, a vegetable dish with cheese, meat, and an alcoholic drink.

The rounds to collect fees continue in successive evenings until all houses have been covered. If a household believes that their house has been not be properly covered during the exorcism, they may refuse to give a fee; if they refuse but the group feels they adequately covered that home in their rounds, the young men may go out to the edge of the village, whistle and call the evil spirits and drive them toward that house. However, this is very rare and on the whole, the village residents cordially pay the fees and bear the pranks with good spirits. With most of today’s adult male population living outside the village, almost all the participants in this ritual are now are young men who are on vacation from schools and colleges. Those few working male adults who live in the village lead the students.

 

Karma Phuntsho is a social thinker and worker, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of many books and articles including The History of Bhutan.

Dun Krothsang: A Ritual to Expel Spirits
Collection Bhutan Cultural Library
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An introduction to a community festival held in Ura, Bumthang, to repel evil spirits.

Author Karma Phuntsho
Editor Ariana Maki
Year published 2017
Subjects
Places