Gods and Sacred Mountains | Animated Nature | The Worship of the Gods | The House Ceremony

The House Ceremony

The village rituals are, however, not the only way to worship the local deities. Every household may also invite a religious specialist in order to perform a ceremony in front of the said house altar. This happens regularly at least once a year. Beyond this, rituals are also performed in front of the house altar for individual problems, such as when a family member becomes ill or before a trip, for which divine protection is asked.

These rituals are often performed by married village priests or by monks of a monastery. They are able to come into direct contact with the Numen.

Even though these ceremonies - and especially those involving the wishes of the lay people - are directed towards the originally pre-Buddhist deities of the immediate vicinity, they are (nonetheless) still performed by using the ritual techniques of Buddhism.

 
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A House Ceremony in a Bhutanese Village Zoom

 
The Course of the Ceremony

The priest, together with his helpers, takes his seat in the altar room of the house. This room is the holiest site of the house and is frequently decorated just like a temple. At the altar, religious portrayals and ritual objects from the family estate are stored. In order to assure the benevolence of the gods, they are constantly being offered sacrificial gifts. The light of the butterlamps, the lovely smell of the flowers or the flavor of the food are meant to delight the senses of the gods.

The priest sits at a small table, opposite the altar, and spreads out in front of him the ritual objects, as well as the text from which he will read.

Before the actual religious ceremonies begin, the priest had formed figurines out of dough - the so called torma* - which are decorated with butter and are partially painted red. These figurines are offered to the gods as bodies in which they, upon the invitation of the priests, can enter into. They then can accept the sacrifices offered to them.

 
 
Torma at the House Altar Zoom

So not only the god is portrayed, to whom the ritual is mainly directed, but also his entire religious surroundings. Among them are also personalities of Tibetan Buddhism which cross the local boundaries and, by their presence, lift the whole event to an overregional level. In this ritual, the gods of the middle-level again find their position within the pantheon and in the Buddhist world of ideas.

The village priest, with his helpers, takes his place opposite of the prepared altar. Here, in the next few hours, they will read their texts, say prayers and play musical instruments and in this way be with the deities of the landscape. Audio abspielen

 

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They begin by calling to the »Three Jewels of Buddhism« (dKon mchog gsum) - Buddha, his teachings and his followers. Then the monks pray to their master of initiation (bla ma'i zhaps rten). So prepared, they chase away all the bad influences and demons from the place of the ceremony (bgegs skrod).

Now they can invocate and invite all the gods and goddesses, who are represented on the altar, to participate in the ritual (spyan 'dren). Once these deities are present, the priest sacrifices everything that has been prepared for them on the altar (mchod pa). In addition to these gifts, he praises the goodness and the benevolence of the gods (bstod pa). This is followed by an offering of food (tshog).

If there were mistakes made in the performance of the ceremony, the Lama now apologizes for these (bkang gsol/mdzod gsol). The gods are now prepared to be asked for their services in return. They should protect the Buddhist teachings, the inhabitants of the region and all living beings; further to fend off enemies, to grant fertility and to uphold peace in the community (dge ba bsngo ba). In the closing prayer, the blessing of the gods and their protection for all times are again asked for (bkra shis).

At the end of the ritual, the Lama sends the gods off again - one to the cliffs, others to the hills or to the heap of stones and, still others, to the high mountains. From high above they overlook the order of the world.

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Small double drums (damaru) of this kind are frequently used at rituals for the mountain gods.


The village Lama is routinely invited to the domestic altar room, in order to put the protective deities in a benevolent mood.


The dough figures on the house altars represent various deities of the Tibetan or Bhutanese Buddhism. Their arrangement can vary from region to region.
Photograph by Christian Schicklgruber


The deities are called to take part in the ritual by the musical instruments. The melodious sound is also an offering to the god's sense of hearing.


Drums, such as the one portrayed here, as well as wind instruments, are primarily used in Buddhist ceremonies. The sound of the music is supposed to put the gods in a benevolent mood.