Fujisan's Kyareng

Friday, February 15, 2013

Losar Decoration and Derkha

During Losar, altars in every Tibetan home are bountifully decorated with offerings. It is a Tibetan way of saying thanks to the nature, yulha and shidag for the good things they had in the passing year, and seeking blessing for the New Year.  Let me give a brief description of what is commonly found at the altar during the Losar celebration. They are: Derkha, Chemar / Chang-phuth, Bo, Yon-chab, Lug-go, and Lo-phuth.

Choeshom (མཆོད་གཤོམ།) is the altar where the Buddhas, gods, goddesses and deities dwell. It is also known by thongdrol chenmo (མཐོང་གྲོལ་ཆེན་མོ); meaning the great one that will liberate you on seeing it, and kunga rawa (ཀུན་དགའ་རྭ་བ།); meaning the great circle of happiness. On this Choehom, the choezes (མཆོད་རྫས།) are offered and displayed.
Derkha (སྡེར་ཁ།) is a pile of Khase (Tibetan cookies in different, mainly elongated shapes) offerings with other eatables. Der means plate; and Kha means mouth. So, it is a big plate in which lot of eatables are presented. Bongbu Achok literally means donkey’s ear. Why it is called donkey’s ear, nothing specific could be found; it may be because of its physical shape. Usually it is about one-feet in length and 5 inches wide. As it is soaked and prepared in hot boiling oil, it comes with an average height of 3 to 4 inches. It is sturdy and hard.
This Bongbu Achok is the pillar of the Derkha. Number of Achok for Derkha could be eight, ten, twelve and so on in even number. It can also assume odd numbers, when the base is made of three Achoks. Derkha is composed of six different khases. Achok, Nyashag, Tashi mugdhung, Kongche, Bolug khorlo, and Pinpin dhog dhog. All these are khase of different physical forms. Construction of Derkha is done to assume the shape of Tashi Taggye (the eight auspicious sign) in union. While official and monastic derkha are mostly constructed with its mouth facing downward, private home have the derkha with its mouth facing up. It is said that the private Derkhas are faced up so that various delicacies and sweats could be put inside the mouth of Achoks, while this is not done in official or formal Derkha.

It is also said that in order to have a harmony in the society, public authorities and public should have good communication. To indicate good communication and proper listening to each other, authorities’ derkha has the face down; and public derkha facing up, forming proper union facing each other.
Pic: Chemar in Bo [at Tibetan Association of Northerna California (TANC) Altar, 2013]

There is other theory as to why Achoks at Derkha are facing down. In Tibetan society, usually all the utensils, bowls, cups and containers are kept face down. If you keep any empty container facing up after washing it, you will be admonished to keep it facing down. This is because Tibet is a land of deities and spirits or ghost. Deities are propitiated often to subdue the malignant ghostly spirit harming the human beings. When the deities pursue the malignant ghost, the later often try to hide inside the utensils and containers. As the deities are sacred and clean, they can’t go inside the utensils and containers used by human beings. So, the ghost escapes from being caught by the deities. Therefore, all empty utensils and containers in Tibet are kept facing down. Official Derkha’s Achoks, which are empty, are kept faced down. Private home have their Achoks facing up because it is filled with other delicacies and sweets.
          Festival of Tibet, edited by Kalsang Khedup and Chung Tsering, Dept. of Education, CTA
          Bod-rgya tsigs mZod chenmo, dictionary
          Legend of Amche Raru by TG Arya

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