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The Worship of the Tsen Deities

In Bhutan profane actions and religious activities are still closely connected. Man is in constant contact with his local deities ( tsen*). Bad things can happen if a man disturbs the peace of these gods, if he pollutes a water in which a snake-like creature ( lu*) lives or if he plows the soil of a shibdag*.

 

 

 
Priests Worship the Local Deities Zoom

 

However, it is not as if the inhabitants of Bhutan have to live in constant fear of their non-human neighbors. Man and god have learned to get along with each other.

The gods of a certain region are ritually worshipped at set times and they are presented with sacrificial offerings. In these rituals the relationship and the mutual expectations of man and the gods are reproduced again and again.

Local deities are portrayed in different ways. These gods may either have a positive, but may also have a negative, attitude towards man. For their benevolence and their protection they require sacrificial offerings and respect for their sites. Their symbolic color is usually red.

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The Shibdag, the »divine owners of the earth«, also live in the fields. For every disturbance of their peace, for example by plowing, they have to be ritually appeased.


In Bhutan, plowing is not possible without the prior ritual invocation of the Shibdag* or without making sacrifices to them.


Free-standing mask, wood; height 38 centimeters, width 29 centimeters; on loan from the National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside, Liverpool
 
Tsen* portrayals in mask-form are stored in the altar rooms. Here they are meant to be protectors of the Buddhist teachings. The lay-population also turns to them for protection in their everyday lives.