Laymena is a grove of forests of about 5 to 8 acres bordering north west of Wangkha village in Punakha dzongkhag (district) of Bhutan. While the tree line recedes elsewhere, even in places far off from the human habitat, this grove remains evergreen and populated with trees. At the base of the grove, there is a spring water which is known as Lamey-za-chhu by the locals. People believe that the grove is an abode of a female serpentine deity generally called as Tsomem, and the water is her gift. It’s a belief that serpentine deities manifest in two forms, as a beautiful girl (may be equated to mermaids or sirens) or a monstrous snake. What one witnesses depends on the strength of positive life force (Lungta) of that person. If a person’s lungta is strong, the deity will appear as a beautiful girl and the onlooker will be blessed with prosperity and abundance. Otherwise, the deity will be viewed as a monstrous snake, heralding misfortune in the life/family, often death of the person who sees.
It’s a common knowledge and an understanding among the villagers that there is no felling of trees or lopping of branches in this sacred grove. Disobeying the rules will only disturb and displease the deity, one of the signs being drying of the spring, which serves as a source of water for drinking and irrigation of farms for two immediate village, Wangkha and Bidongkha, and for those further downstream.
It’s a common knowledge and an understanding among the villagers that there is no felling of trees or lopping of branches in this sacred grove. Disobeying the rules will only disturb and displease the deity.
Locals worship the deity during an annual ritual called Tsomem Bumchu (Serpentine girls) conducted by shaman. Five to six young girls dressed in beautiful costumes and jewelries considered to be the representatives of the deity stand in circle and are serenaded by the shaman. The elderly sprinkle milk and rice in the air as an offering and recites praises, seeking protection and gifts of abundance from the deity. The offering of milk and rice sprinkle is conducted throughout the year during auspicious day by the devouts.
The protected areas in Laymena grove is home to huge pine trees protected as abode of spirits. One area was however developed into primary school. Looking at the location of the protected areas around the communities, the belief in guardian deities went onto protecting the ecosystem and green around the human habitat. The belief may be spiritual but was based on objective observation over time. And this is true for all the settlements in Bhutan, having their local deities and their protected abode nearby.
This story is contributed by Ms. Kinley Pelden, Asia Pacific Leadership Program alumni G16 who is a native of Punakha district, Bhutan.