Pang Lhabsol

Prayer for mountain deity of Kanchenjunga

I was very lucky to witness this festival which is very unique to Sikkim. I visited Sikkim in the month of August and while strolling around in the mall road, I got to know that there is a festival going on near to the market area itself. This festival was actually revived after several years, so I knew I could not miss it.

As soon as I reached the ground where the festival was happening, I witnessed peculiar things. There was a warrior in a red mask who danced and twirled around fiercely. There were loud music and banding of the drums and the crowd was silent despite the chaos.

Pang Lhabsol festival in Sikkim
Image courtesy: Radhika_Nomllers
What is Pang Lhabsol?

Pang Lhabsol is celebrated to offer respect and homage to the third highest mountain, Mount Kanchenjunga. But this is not it, Pang means ‘to witness’ and apart from paying homage it also commemorates the Treaty of brotherhood among Lepchas and Bhutias. It signifies the unity of the Sikkimese.

Mount Kanchenjunga is also the highest mountain in India. It is considered as the guardian deity of Sikkim and it is said that the Sikkimese invoke God on this day on behalf of the entire country. The festival is considered very auspicious and happens in between August and September.

Many tourists visit Sikkim just to watch this festival and you will find many locals cheering the dancers. The entire aura is vibrant with dancers twirling fiercely on the beat of the drums. It is such a positive feeling and marks the unity of people.

Pang Lhabsol festival in Sikkim
Image courtesy: Radhika_Nomllers
Briefing of the Festival

The festival happens in the Royal Palace Compound, in front of the Tsuklakhang monastery. Dancers wear costumes which are colourful and bright red in colour with warlike masks.

Pang Lhabsol festival in Sikkim
Image courtesy: Radhika_Nomllers
When it happens

The festival happens in accordance with the Tibetan Lunar Calendar, which is its 15th day of the 7th month. The festival is celebrated across Sikkim but the main one happens in the Tsuklakhang Monastery in Gangtok. The dancers dance for hours in excruciating heat. In here, you can find all the three tribes of Sikkim – Bhutias, Lepchas and Nepalis, while other locals and tourists cheer for them.

What to expect
Pang Lhabsol festival in Sikkim
Image courtesy: Radhika_Nomllers

I would say its colours, apart from all the thrilling dance performances is the highlight. The most spectacular one of all the performances is when lamas wear five skulls, pretend to ride on the lion and twirl around to the sound of the drums and cymbals. The man with five human skulls is regarded as Mount Kanchenjunga. Towards the end of it, God Makhala makes a spectacular appearance with his energetic dance moves where he asks for peace and prosperity from Mount Kanchenjunga.

Pang Lhabsol festival in Sikkim
Image courtesy: Radhika_Nomllers

The entire performance takes weeks of preparation. In fact, some of the dancers are kept secluded from the crowd so that they remain pure. They get trained for weeks to showcase their skills in swordsmanship. Further, through the window of Tsuklakhang Monastery, you can see many young lamas watching the entire performance which adds another depth to the festival.

Young lamas watching the Pang Lhabsol festival, Sikkim
Image courtesy: Radhika_Nomllers
History of the Festival

It is believed that the Pang Lhabsol festival was started in the 13th century and was introduced by the third religious king (Chogyal) of Sikkim – Chagdor Namgya.

Pang Lhabsol festival in Sikkim
Image courtesy: Radhika_Nomllers

But who exactly is Chagdor Namgya? Sikkim was discovered by Guru Rinpoche. He considered Sikkim as one of the sacred lands. He also regarded Mount Kanchenjunga as a guardian deity along with others such as Gonpo and Dragpo Deshi. The deities were asked to protect the land with good harvests, rainfall and protect the lands against wars and disasters. In turn, the people of Sikkim will pray to them on an annual basis.

Pang Lhabsol festival in Sikkim
Image courtesy: Radhika_Nomllers

Although Buddhism in Sikkim was implemented by four brothers – Namkha Jigme, Ngadag Sempa Phungtsog Rinzing, Karthog Kuntu Zangpo and Phuntsog Namgyal which was after 800 years of its introduction by Guru Rinpoche. Of these Phuntsog Namgyal was regarded as the third religious king called Chogyal. The warrior dance of Pang Lhabsol was introduced and choreographed by him on the basis of a visionary dream.

In the entire festival, the text of Guru Rinpoche called neysol is recited for three days after which on the final day ritual performances, carnivals, ‘shaylen’ (oral oath of protection) and the ‘dzongkhor’ (victory song) is performed­­­­.

Conclusion

For cultural enthusiasts planning their trip to Sikkim, these months are the best time to visit Sikkim to experience the ethnic and traditional legacy.

It is amongst the popular carnivals in and the varied tints play a very significant role in this cultural festival.

Related reading:

8 best places to visit in Gangtok
5 reasons to travel to Pelling in West Sikkim

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