Monday, July 12, 2010

Daily Life in Bhutan, Part I: Memorial Chorten

The National Memorial Chorten came to represent the feeling of “home” in Bhutan very soon after I arrived here in Thimphu. During my first week in Bhutan, a week long puja was taking place at the Chorten. Every day I would wake up to the sounds of the ceremonial horns and drums and cymbals, to the sounds of prayers coming loudly through the speakers in the Chorten grounds. That first week, walking to the Chorten every morning, to watch the puja going on and the many devotees circumambulating, joining in, that was my first real introduction into Bhutan, and it created an immediate and deep connection for me with this wonderful spiritual monument. Though at the time, I did not exchange anything more than a smile or a glance with the other people around me, it was really the first place here in Bhutan that gave me a sense of belonging and community.

Every day, as I walk from my apartment to town or to school, my path inevitably leads me by the chorten. It’s a two minute walk from my apartment to the main intersection below where the Chorten stands, beautifully and peacefully. It’s bells ringing in the wind, it’s golden top radiant and awesome looking.

As I walk outside of my apartment garden gate, this is what I see...

walking down the path leading from my apartment to the main road...

At any point during the day, you will find devotees circumambulating in clockwise motion around the Chorten, reciting mantras, turning large prayer wheels, prostrating and praying. The Chorten is a place of worship, a place of practice and devotion for many. A daily and physical reminder of Buddha’s teachings.

The prayer wheels are right on the left when you enter the Chorten grounds...

A woman prostrating...

But the Chorten is not only a place of worship and practice, it serves as a kind of community gathering place and park at the same time. In the absence of a park in the town area of Thimphu, the Chorten serves as a place of refuge from the busy day, a place to come and take a nice evening walk, quietly, or with a friend. The Chorten grounds are also a place for teenagers and young adults, couples and friends to come and hang out, giving them much needed privacy to share their lives with one another away from parents, relatives and school.

I, myself, have often joined the crowd in circumambulating round and round. It just feels really good! The seasons have changed, from autumn and winter through spring and summer, and the Chorten has seemingly changed its personality along with the weather, yet always remaining a kind of comforting presence, an inanimate friend and companion.

bird's view (inside the chorten, from above)

To learn more about Chortens/Stupas visit here or here.



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