Dumjee in Khumbu

By Bishnu Bhattarai

DUMJEE is a colorful festival of Sherpa people living in north-eastern areas of the country especially the Khumbu region. It is a five-day festival celebrated from 9th to 13th day of the 5th month according to the Tibetan Lunar calendar. The festival is celebrated in the memory of Lama Sanga Dorjee. Lama Sanga Dorjee is believed to be the first to have set his footprints in the Khumbu region. It is believed that people started settling in the places where Lama Sanga Dorjee put his footprints or ‘Che’. Lama Sanga Dorjee and his two brothers built monasteries in Thame, Pangboche and Gumila. The people of Khumbu region are believed to have begun celebrating Dumjee annually after the death of Lama Sanga Dorjee.
Interestingly, Dumjee was celebrated only in these three monasteries in early years. But now Dumjee is celebrated in the monasteries of Pangboche, Khumjung, Namche, Thame, Gumila and Lukla. Though celebrated in the memory of Lama Sanga Dorjee, the major aspect of the Dumjee celebration is the worshipping of local deities. If you have been to the Khumjung village, you can see Khumbi-Ila which is worshipped by the Sherpas as their sacred mountain. It is believed that once a huge boulder got detached from the mountain and started rolling downwards. But the boulder was stopped by a small rock above the monastery. Sherpas believe that the boulder was stopped by Khumbi-Ila. Since then the tradition of worshipping Khumbi-Ila is believed to have begun.

Photo Courtsey: Chris Walker
Photo Courtsey: Chris Walker

Dumjee also marks the unity of Sherpa community. All the villagers come together and celebrate the festival in the true spirit of brotherhood and harmony. Those who are abroad come back to their home for the celebration. Also all villagers lend their helping hands to the Lawas or the organizers.
Dumjee sees the participation of every household of the village. Every year, the monastery selects definite number of organizer called Lawa. The turn to become Lawa comes by rotation system and the monastery manages all this. In Khumjung monastery, the number of Lawa is 10 every year. The Lawa has to prepare for Dumjee throughout the year. Brewing local wines, procuring rice for distribution, preparing other offerings for the worship, and making arrangements for parties go throughout the year. Lawas from poor financial background have to save money for Dumjee celebration from years. In an average, the cost of Dumjee preparation for a Lawa runs up to hundreds of thousands of rupees.
Two days before the Dumjee is a celebration called Genda Kou. On this day, Lamas make Tormas of various shapes and size that represent various gods and goddesses. Only skillful and artistic Lama can make Torma. Torma is made of flour and water and molded into shapes of various gods and goddesses.
After completion of the preparation of Genda Kou, the next day the Lamas arrive from nearby monastery. After the arrival of the Head Lama and the monks, the Gompa is circumambulated clockwise by Lamas and villagers chanting sacred Mantras. After circumambulating the monastery or completing the ceremony of Nagdombu, Lamas cannot get out of the monastery before concluding the Dumjee celebration. They have to complete all their activities inside the monastery premises and cannot get out even during emergencies.

Photo Courtesy: Chris Walker
Photo Courtesy: Chris Walker

The Dumjee celebration kicks off from the 9th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar. The first day is called Dupsak. From this day, the turn of worship for Lawa comes. For the next five days, 10 Lawas (two Lawas a day) have to perform special rituals in the monastery and in their own houses too. The house of Lawa looks busy from the very morning. Villagers come to the house of Lawa to lend them helping hands. Early in the morning, Lama performs special rituals in the house of Lawa. The ritual of Serkim is also performed in the house of Lawa. The chief of every households of the village is offered local wines that have been offered to Guru Padmasambhava. Then the offerings, wines and rice to be distributed among villagers are taken to the monastery and are kept at the side of a pole erected in the monastery premises. Every day, two Lawa has to perform the same rituals. After the Lamas complete recitation of sacred mantras and performing sacred rituals, villagers are invited to the monastery by blowing conch shells and Lawas distribute rice to the villagers. The ceremony of distributing rice to villagers is called Then Gotup. Earlier, there was the tradition of distributing cooked rice. But now due to the scarcity of fire woods and other practical reasons, uncooked rice is distributed. Throughout the day, villagers and invited to the house of Lawa to take wine and offerings. Rich or poor, all villagers go to the house of Lawa to receive the offerings. In the night, people drink, eat, dance and rejoice the festival.
The second day of Dumjee celebration is Lhachethu which means worshipping the local deities. From the very morning, every households bring Tharsing (clothes of various colours tied to bamboo twigs) and other offering to the monastery premises. Cloths of five different colours: blue, white, red, green and yellow respectively are tied in the bamboo twigs and these five colours represent the Mother Nature. Blue denotes sky, white denotes cloud, red denotes red fire, green denotes water and yellow represents land or earth. On this day all villagers come out in their traditional Sherpa attire. Men wear Chuwa (gown), Bure ratuk (shirt), Syamu Fingsya (hat) and women were Angi, Rotak, Matil and Syamu tsering Kinggap. They all take their seat in the platform constructed in the monastery premises. Lamas perform various rituals. After performing certain rites and rituals, a man with the mask in the form of god Khumbi-Ila comes out of the monastery amidst chanting of mantras, beating of drums and blowing of conch shells and other sacred instruments.  The Khumbi-Ila dances and sits near the pole erected in the monastery premises. All the villagers offer prayers, Serkim and Khadas (white silk scarfs) to Khumbi-Ila. After sometimes, the Khumbi-Ila enters into the monastery dancing amidst chanting of sacred mantras. After performing other rituals, all the villagers go little above the village and offer local wines and white Dhwojas to the local deity, Khumbi-Ila and they sing and dance Shebru to please the local deities. The celebration in Lawa’s house is similar to that of the day before.
The 3rd day is called Cham. Chanting of the mantras by the monks goes on in the monasteries from the early morning. Then in the afternoon, the distribution of the rice goes on. After that Lamas perform various masked dances. At the end, a bonfire of ghee and oil is made in the monastery in which, it is believed that, the evil forces are burnt or destroyed. On this day also, the Lamas dance to lure the evil spirits and destroy them in the bonfire.

dumjee festival 2
Photo Courtsey: www.whynepal.com

The 4th day of the Dumjee celebration is Lokpar. On this day, the Lama and the villagers chase away the evil forces residing in the village. Few monks masked in the forms of various gods and a man with Yeti’s scalp in his head, carrying sword and shield in his two hands is believed to chase away the evil spirits. The Lamas invite Guru Padmasambhav and using his power the fierce character is believed to chase away the evil forces from the village. The dance of the fierce character and other Lamas in this day is very attractive and worth watching. This day also the Lawas go on performing their celebration both at house and at monastery.
The last day of the Dumjee celebration is called Ong, where all villagers receive blessings and offerings from Lamas. The Lamas again perform special rituals after which they could go out of the monastery. On this day, the Lama hands over Tormas to the Lawas of next year.

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