Gods and Sacred Mountains | Guru Rinpoche | The Life of Guru Rinpoche | Guru Rinpoche in Bhutan | Battle with Shelging Karpo

Sendharkha's Sin

Sendharkha, the king of a small kingdom in today's Bumthang, was at war with many neighboring kingdoms. In a battle with his southern neighbor, the King Nahuche, his son was killed. The king was so angry over the lack of assistance by his protective god Shelging Karpo (literally: »white crystal skeleton«), that to his other-worldly protector he denied any offerings. In addition to this, he even ordered all of his sacred places to be soiled with excrement, thus polluting these sites.

As a result of this, all the local protective gods gathered together in the cave with the name »Diamond Tent« and decided to punish Sendharkha's sin. The mightiest of the gods present decided that all the gods and demons should, from now on, preside over the life force (la) of the king.

Upon this, the king became very ill. No medicines and no ceremonies helped.

The Call to the Guru

Guru Rinpoche was Sendharkha's last hope. He should overthrow this protective god and win back the life energy of the king.

Seven vessels filled with gold dust, that were offered to him as a present, eased his decison to come to Bumthang in order to save the king. He, however, made another additional demand. He needed a tantric partner who had to be a Dakini*. The king thus offered him one of his four daughters. Among these four, there really was one who bore all 21 signs of being a Dakini*.

The Battle with Shelging Karpo

With her, Guru Rinpoche wiled in the »Diamond Tent«. He repeatedly sent his partner out with a magnificent, shiny vase (bumpa) to a nearby spring, located behind the cave, in order to fetch water. Shelging Karpo had already observed her doing this for awhile. One day, in order to catch her, he turned himself into a snake. Shortly before he reached her, a ray of sunlight caught in the vase and was so reflected in the snake's eyes, that Shelging Karpo was blinded. This moment was then used by the Guru. He transformed himself into the mythical bird Garuda*, grabbed the snake with his claws and threatened to destroy it. At this point the god swore not only to give back the life force of the king, but also to protect the Buddhist teachings and its followers for all time.

A small metal box contained the life force of Sendharkha. Guru Rinpoche handed this to the king and demanded of him that he make peace with his enemy, the Indian King Nahuche. Indeed, both of these rulers became good friends and the Guru predicted that they would meet again, in paradise, in their next life.

Up until today, the water out of this spring, at which Shelging Karpo was conquered, is said to have healing powers.

Shelging Karpo Zoom
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Shelging Karpo, the protective God of Bumthang
Mural in the entrance hall of the Kurje temple in Bumthang

Garuda, excerpt of: horse jewelry; silver, fire-gilded, leather; height 48 centimeters, length 17 centimeters; on loan from the National Museum Paro
The jewelry for the head of a royal horse shows, next to the embellishment of Buddhist good luck symbols, dragons, phoenixes and the mythical bird of the gods, the Garuda. The Garuda is also seen as the protector of the Buddhist teachings. Usually he is portrayed with a snake god in his beak.

Bumpa, silver, partially fire-gilded, peacock feathers; 19th century; height 46 centimeters; on loan from Paro-Dzong
This type of vases, used for ritual purposes, is filled with perfumed water. The aspergillum runs out into a gold medallion. With this the Lama sprinkles the holy water or he dribbles it into the right hand of the believers.