“Long ago, the priest travelled from here all the way to Komu in the Himal to offer prayers three times a year, which involved animal sacrifices. The journey was very long, taking almost three days. During one such trip, the priest died on his way; perhaps due to some disease. It was then that the locals decided to bring the ‘asthan’ closer to the village and place it in the forest above us. And people started to offer prayers here.
Since then, the locals decided not to cut even a single branch of a tree from the demarcated area in the forest. Because of which, today we have huge old trees in that patch. The area will be approximately 1 km in diameter. To this day, if anyone kills a deer, a bird or cuts any tree, he isn’t allowed to sleep the night, and may be haunted by nightmares. The protectors of the forest ask them why they committed the offence”, explains Daya Prasad Gurung, while I sat and listened to him under a dim light in his house.
Daya Prasad is a 69-year-old man and this is the story of the sacred forest in his village Khilang, Nepal.
Khilang is a Gurung settlement, nestled in the lap of the Annapurna mountain range. They are believed to followers of the ‘Bon’ religion. They are also considered to be animistic in nature for whom all creatures possess a distinct spiritual essence. With 120-odd households, it is situated in the Kaski district, at approximately 40 km from Pokhara valley. Khilang is a hidden paradise in the Annapurna Conservation Area of the Himalayas.
Continuing the conversation, Gurung further adds, “Women are not allowed in our ‘asthan’. They do take the forest route to collect firewood. Pregnant women or menstruating women take that route but are not allowed inside the ‘asthan’ boundary where we offer prayers”.
“Even during time of droughts in surrounding villages, they come to offer prayers in our ‘asthan’”, quickly adds his wife, Hosuba Gurung.
“While it may look like any other forest, it is sacred to us. We revere and respect it”, Daya Prasad wraps up the conversation for the night.
The ‘Kuliphi’ forest is a sacred forest for the Gurungs in Khilang village. They believe in and worship the ‘thanku asthan’ which is in the forest overlooking the village. The ‘asthan’ which symbolises the holy area and is guarded by a stone boundary and is spread up to a kilometre. As per their belief, the ‘asthan’ of ‘thanku devta’ in the form of a ‘rock’ was brought to its current location about 500 years ago from a place called ‘Komu’ in the Himalayas. The locals have been protecting and conserving this small patch of forest since ages now. No resources from the forest are taken out for personal or community use by the locals.
The following day, I visited the sacred forest with Daya Prasad Gurung and Budhiman Tamu, a 73 years old priest from the village. Climbing up the sacred forest barefoot was something I could have never imagined. But witnessing the faith and commitment of the two elderlies, who were more than double of my age, I had to let go of my inhibitions.