Cultural Heritages of Bhutan, Research Articles

Meri Puensum: The three towering hills of Haa

The three towering hills of Haa

Meri Puensum is the collective name given to the three towering hills that cover all five chiwogs of the Eusu Gewog in Haa. These three small mountains rise up sharply to the west from the floor of Haa valley. The people of Haa believe that it represents the principal Buddhist deities – Jampelyang (Manjushri), Chana Dorji (Vajrapani), and Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) known as Rigsum Gonpo. This magnificent range provides a cultural landscape of Haa, towering over the silent villages clustered along the Haa Chhu.

History of Meri Puensum

The history of the Haa Valley is surrounded by the Meri Puensum. The Haa valley is known as a paradise of the three Buddha families and a secret land of Guru Rinpoche. Meri Puensum is also associated with the history of the Lhakhang Karpo and Nagpo. It is said that some human beings that were actually manifestations of the three Buddha families miraculously emerged, and built these two temples in a day.  

The meaning of the Haa is ‘astonishingly, suddenly, and instantaneously’ arisen. The peopling of Haa believed it occurred when some humans suddenly appeared from the three mountains from north to south of Eusu Gewog. It is believed that at that time, the indigenous people of Haa or Haaps, arose from these mountains and set throughout the valley. Over time, they eventually spread as tribes into different parts of Haa; in upper Haa of Bji and Kartshok, in middle Haa, and at Samar in lower Haa. From this time, the region was known as Haa and the people were known as Haap.

Another legend says that “when Buddha Shakyamuni was teaching the sutra known as the “Core of the Sun’, he radiated lights over the northern region and prophesied that, “one hundred miles away from here, the Buddha Dharma will pervade.” This was how the teachings of the Buddha got connected to the Haa valley” (Neten, 2019).  Similarly, it is supported by another version of justification that those miraculous human beings, who wished to receive teachings and visit the Buddha, built the two temples as offerings to the Buddha.

It is also believed that these temples were built during the expeditions to Haa by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century. It is said that the king radiated two lights from his heart- white and black. These lights then manifested into the while temple and black temples respectively. It is also said that, at that time, these two temples were included in the 108 temples attributed to King Songtsen Gampo but this is a Bhutanese belief not found in Tibet. Therefore, it is very difficult to know what are the real stories behind the building of the temple since every story is shrouded in mystery.

Association of Places’ names around Meri Puensum

The people of the Haa trace their legendary ancestry to the sacred mountain of Meri Puensum, abode of the Rigsum Gonpo (Essential Guide to sacred Sites Volume IX, p.196). People of Haa are known as Haa Juedzhi, which comprises Bji, Kartsho, Eusu, and Samar. 

The term Bji means the boundary between Bhutan and Tibet. Kartsho means village settlement like that of the stars sprinkling over the sky. It is also associated with the name given by the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpai Dorji Rinpoche while consecrating a Chorten (stupa) on the way to sacred site Jungney Dra, a suspicious sign of Sun manifested in the form of Karma (star), so the place was called Kartsho. Another oral tradition opine that when the 16th Karmapa enquired what types of crops were grown here, People responded only kar (wheat), abundant in the place, so the village is called Kartsho.

Eusu is derived from its location between upper Haa (Bji and Kartsho) and the lower Haa Sama, now called Samar which among the four regions of the Haa, is located at the lower attitude “samar”

An account of the Rigsum- Gonpo and its worships

The three towering identical hills are called Meri Puensum or Rigsum Gonpo symbolizing Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig), the Buddha of compassion; Manjushree (Jampelyang), the Buddha of wisdom and knowledge; and Vajrapani (Chana Dorji), the Buddha of power and victory.  The 69th Je Khenpo Geduen Rinchen explained that some people from Ribursum (tri-lumped hill) emerged instantly and built two Lhakhangs – Karpo and Nagpo in a day. Therefore, the name of the hill and a village is called ‘Meri Puensum’ and ‘Hed Lum’, respectively. Originally it is ‘Hed’ or ‘Hes’, but today people call it Haa.  All these mountains have similar heights and sizes. Haaps worshipped them as sacred mountains and strongly believes that they are protecting deities of Haa valley.

Towards the farthest north is Manjushree (Jampelyang) surrounded by two local deities, Kipiri Tsen and Basa Village Tsen. The middle mountain represents Avalokiteshvara and is guarded by its two local deities called Dradog Tsen (also called Tadin Tsen) of Lhakhang Nagpo, and Lhatsuen Zhenu Zeba, the local deity of Shelkardrag. 

Toward the south, facing the Haa town, is the mountain which is the embodiment of Chana Dorji (Vajrapani). Locals believe that Vajrapani manifested in the form of Ap Chundu as Dra Lha Gyalpo resides in it, surrounded by two local deities called Banynegna Tsuen and Jowo Risu Tsuen. This mountain range bears spiritual and historic significance to people of Haa valley and worshipped it as the phodrang (palace) of the great Ap Chundu who is not only considered as one of the great deities protecting residents from evil forces and bring peace and happiness within the community but also as protector deity of Bhutan (Phuntsho, 2019, p.116). Similarly, it is an ancient practice for the people of Haa to place a sacred phodrang (palace) inside Lhakhang Karpo as an object of offering as well as the abode of Ap Chundu. Because of it, the people of Haa perform different kinds of tantric and shamanistic rituals annually for the benefit of all sentient beings, in particular for their purification or to ward off the evil and well beings of the country. According to oral sources, they also attribute the success of Haaps in important government services and positions to the blessing bestowed to them by Ap Chundu.   This could be one reason why the entire regions of Haa celebrate and propitiate Ap Chundu with annual offerings to this day. They also place Ap Chundu’s statues in almost every Lhakhangs of the Haa Juedzhi.

Development of Ecotourism

Eco-tourism is one of the major prospects that Haa Dzongkhag will have the advantage to attract foreigners along the Meri Puensum hiking trail inaugurated to commemorate the 60th birth anniversary of the His Majesty the fourth king of Bhutan because, Meri Puensum, commonly known as Rigsum Gonpo is unique to Haa that provides a magnificent natural environment and forest to develop eco-tourism. Moreover, the expansion of single-lane primary national highway to Haa into a double-lane road will shorten the travel time between Haa Dzongkhag and the capital city offering a good avenue to harness tourism development plans. These will bring increased developmental activities that will derive benefits from the tourism sector not only for the enhancement of economic standard of the people of Haa but also through the preservation and conservation of sacred sites in the valley.

Sacred holy sites are one of the potential areas for eco-tourism for both the national and international tourists wishing to explore the Meri Puensum and other sites such as the Machen Labdon meditation cave on the way to Shelkardrag; Pelden Lhamo’s Kilkor Ranjoen (naturally-raising) behind Lhakhang Nagpo; Dorji Phagmo Rang-Joen, Gangphu cave used for meditation by great saints in the past; Kipiri Nye; and Shelkardrag Nye which would attract ecotourism. Future researchers have good scope to study these sites in detail in the light of ecotourism.

Conclusion

Haa Dzongkhag is rich in various unique cultures and traditions spanning over beautiful and pristine cultural landscape. Among that the towering three hills of the Meri Puensum provides a magnificent view of the Haa valley. It is fact that the people of Haa have developed socio-cultural relationships with Meri Puensum since their civilization into the valley.  In order to attract development in tourism, emphasis must be to promote the existing natural environment and the rich culture and traditions of Haa Dzongkhag. For this to take place, people of Haa need to create a local brand  for the promotion of eco-tourism and cultural tourism in order to harness the greater and sustainable benefits through the preservation of these unique cultures and traditions.

Researcher

Sangay Phuntsho, Lecturer

College of Language and Culture Studies

Key Informant

Lopen Kuenga Pelden, Lungsukha

Lopen Tshering, 58, Tshogpa of Eusu Gewog, Haa.

References

Dorji, J. (2019). Meri Puensum. The 19th Moenlam Chenmo Haa Dzongkhag. Kuensel Cooperation.

Thinley, K. (2008). Seeds of Faith: A Comprehensive Guide to the sacred places of  Bhutan (Vol.1). KMT Printers & amp; Publishers.

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