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Festivals in Bhutan - Gomphu Kora Festival
Gomphu Kora lies in the heart of the agrarian belt of eastern Bhutan. It is 23 kilometers from Trashigang Dzong, the headquarters of Bhutan’s most populous district, and two kilometers from Duksum, a quaint hamlet consisting of a few shops that serves the nearby farming community.
In Chokoey (a classical script), Gomphu means ‘Meditation Cave’ and Kora means ‘Circumambulaion’. The name is derived from a cave formed out of a rock-face next to a temple that has been built as a tribute to this scared site. The story of Gomphu Kora goes back to the 8th century AD. Legends has it that an evil spirit called Myongkhapa escaped from Samye in Tibet where Guru Padmasambhava, the progenitor of the Nyingma strand of Buddhism, was spreading the Dharma in the Himalayas. Myongkhapa followed the course of the present – day Kholongchhu stream and concealed himself inside a rock where Gomphu Kora stands today. The Guru followed the evil, meditated for three days inside the rock cave and finally vanquished it.
Several prominent religious personalities have undertaken pilgrimage to Gomphu Kora in the past millennium. The Gomphu Kora temple was renovated and enlarged in the 15th century by Yongzin Ngagi Wangchuk, the grandfather of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel who founded Bhutan as a nation state. He also inscribed murals on the walls of the temple. Gyalse tenzin Rabgay, the fourth temporal ruler of Bhutan, followed his footsteps about a hundred years and renovated the temple.
‘Go around Gomphu Kora today for tomorrow may be too late’, so goes a local song that entices devotees to visit Gomphu Kora. The place comes alive, once every year, when people all over eastern Bhutan descend upon the narrow valley, dressed in fineries, to partake in the festivity, to worship and to reunite themselves with their illustrious past. The sanctity of the three-day religious festival equally draws the Dakpa tribes in neighboring Arunachael Pradesh (India) who endure days of travel on foot amid rugged environs with entire families in tow. Some say, the Dakpas have done this for more than a millennium, beginning shortly after Guru Padmasambhava sanctified the place in the 8th century AD.
So, in just the blink of an eye, the otherwise desolate rock-scarred landscape mushrooms into a town of tents and huts filled with people of all shades and colours. Towards dusk, the occupants of three make shift dwellings join a river of crowd for the clockwise circumambulation of the temple and the rock chanting the omnipotent mantra of Guru Rinpoche. This often lasts till dawn. The Guru is attributed to have said that devotees will flock to Gomphu Kora for eons on to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. There could not be a more accurate prophesy.The festival also provides the much-needed respite for work-worn families and especially in recent years, the strictly religious event has also become a great social outlet.