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Pang Lhabsol, Sikkim’s Thanks Giving Festival

Srinivasan Balakrishnan

Pang Lhabsol is Sikkim’s unique festival. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the 7th month of the lunar-based Tibetan Buddhist calendar to offer thanks to Mt. Khangchendzonga. Prayers are offered to the Trinity - Mt. Dzonga, the Guardian Deity of Sikkim, Yabdu, the supreme commander of Mt. Dzonga, and the almighty  Mahakala who commands  Mt. Dzonga himself - to defend the faith and for peace & prosperity of the people. This year Pang Lhabsol falls on 6th September.

Earth’s third highest peak Mt. Dzonga is 28,168 ft. / 8,586 metre high; it is on the Indo(Sikkim)-Nepal border. The name Khangchendzonga (corrupted to ‘Kanchenjunga’ or Kanjunjunga) has beautiful meaning - ‘Khang’ in Tibet is snow, ‘chen’ – great, ‘dzo’- treasure and ‘nga’ – five; it literally means ‘The House of Five Treasures’ probably represented by the five nearby snowy peaks of Jano (7,709 m.), Kabru (7,320 m.), Pandim (6,691 m.), Siniolchu (6,888 m.) and Narsingh (5,825 m.).  

Dzonga is also said to represent a monarch seated on a magnificent throne. And his five treasures are: the golden rays showered on it by the rising and setting sun, the silvery virgin snow, Kangyur & Tengyur, respectively the sacred scriptures containing the teachings of Lord Buddha and explanations to it. Being the Guardian Deity of the Sikkimese, revering the religious feelings the mountaineers desist from actually setting their foot on the summit. This is so since Joe Brown and George Band, the two mountaineers of the British team, successfully climbed the Peak for the first time on 25 May, 1955.

The royal monastery in Gangtok called Tsuk-la-khang ('T' silent) is the venue for Pang Lhabsol; prayers and chham (religious dance) of the Pangtoed dancers are held here. The palace of the Chogyals, the erstwhile Kings of the Namgyal dynasty of the former Kingdom of Sikkim, stands at the other end of the flattened hill top.

Chador Namgyal, the third king of Sikkim (A.D. 1700 – 1717) is said to have choreographed the Pangtoed warrior dance. They are supposed to be the warriors of Yabdu, supreme commander of Mt. Dzonga. Once reserved only for the elite youth of the kingdom to be battle-ready, the chham is now open to other talented lads also who are physically fit with quick reflexes of good swordsmanship. Since fifteen days prior to Pang Lhabsol, the participants live in seclusion, purifying themselves and also honing their swordsmanship.

 The day also commemorates the 15th-century signing of blood brotherhood between Lepchas (the aborigines of Sikkim) and Bhutias (migrated from Tibet during the 12th /13th century). Hence this is chiefly celebrated by these two communities which follow Buddhism than by the third community, the Nepali Hindus. The Lamas of the West Sikkim Pemayangtse Monastery (115 km. from Gangtok) play a key role in the chham by conducting the prayers, scoring the music and playing the main roles of the Pang Lhabsol dance festival. Prayers actually begin a week before the festive day and are held inside Tsuklakhang.

 As if to witness and bless, the snow-covered Mt. Khangchendzonga benignly appears beyond Tsuklakhang on the day when Sikkimmese hail ‘Thank You, Dzonga!’

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