Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Vishwakarma - Honouring the God of Machinery

Tuesday morning I was Teacher on Duty meaning my day began with supervising morning study from 6.30am, pacing the courtyard to keep an eye on all the classes. But the sight of all the public buses bound for Thimphu driving through the morning fog  distracted me - they were decorated with beautiful streamers and balloons and looked so festive.

I climbed along the top of a narrow brick wall to photograph them- but of course while I waited no more buses came through and I thought I'd better get back to check on all the students.

Later in the day piece by piece I found out about the significance of the day, and the reason why all the vehicles had been decorated. The celebration known as Vishwakarma is a Hindu holiday, and due to the presence of families of Nepali origin in Bhutan, it is celebrated throughout the country. For a day I felt a bit of the magic and mysticism and colour and music that I loved about India.

Vishwakarma is the god of machinery and of architects and all things to do with building, making and craftsmanship. Once a year on this day, particularly in workshops, a 'puja' (ceremony) is held to honour the god and bring blessings for safety of workers, efficient workings of machinery, increased productivity and creative inspiration.

Most people in our village decorated their cars, buses, tractors and motorbikes with brightly coloured balloons, tinsel and streamers that suddenly appeared for sale at the local shops ( I bought a bag full to keep for decorating a Christmas tree in a couple of months!).

In and around Chumey, we have many sawmills and these were the focus for celebrations. There are two just a ten minute walk from home, and many students took off through the day, or were taken by their parents to visit, pray and more importantly come home with handfuls of sweets!

For predominantly Buddhist Bhutanese, this celebration seems to have been adopted due to its fun nature, and the chance for a bit of colour and celebration. Unlike Buddhist festivals, we did not get a day off school, but children from families who originate from Nepal took the day off school to enjoy the puja with their families.

Bob took the boys to the sawmills in the afternoon and had a jolly good time - treated to prasad (blessed sweets) and beer and they danced around with the locals! As soon as school finished they took me to join in as well, and an entourage of my students accompanied me, visiting and receiving packets of sweets for a second or third time!

The first venue reminded me a bit of a 'biblical' scene - with an altar with the statue of Vishwakarma set up in an alcove in a rustic wooden cow shelter. I half expected to find baby Jesus in a manger!

Do these trucks really need any extra decoration?!

The little temple set up to honour Vishwakarma

Xavier and Remy and their best buddy Tsewang.


Nepali pop music was played loud and Xavier busted some Bollywood moves. We enjoyed our puris and sweet snack mix, and then thanked the hosts before moving on to the KTM bakery and sawmill. We often come here for lunch on the weekend so we are well known and were treated like very special guests. I was ushered down the walkway to the altar which had been carefully carpeted with pine needles. The man kindly gave me some incense to offer to the god, but seeing that I didn't know what I was doing, he took it back, asked my name and made the prayers for me. Then I was adorned with a red 'tika' mark on my third eye and given some blessed milk to drink and a handful of 'prasad' to eat.

Next I was shown a chair and a nice plate and spoon was fetched for 'madam' as surely it wouldn't have been polite to serve me snacks from a paper cone like every one else. Meanwhile Bob vehemently refused again and again the offer of a second beer for the afternoon - but to no avail - the lid was ripped off and a mug poured for him to enjoy. Fortunately they understood my protest that I had to return to school to supervise evening study so I shouldn't be drinking beer.

The sawmill machinery was all decorated and there was a fun party atmosphere the kids loved!

Here the music was western pop and dance music - so loud! The kids had lots of fun dancing and jumping around the decorated machinery of the saw mill.

One sobering thing that happened that I'd like to share: one of my very favourite class 2 girls was sitting at the table with us as I ate my snacks and Bob drank his beer. After some time she looked at him and said very directly 'Mr Bob, after you finish your beer, please don't beat Mrs Andrea'. It was an eye-opening moment, that speaks a lot about what children here witness. It may be the country of Gross National Happiness, but anecdotally I have often heard of domestic violence.

We had a chat about how Mr Bob does not beat Mrs Andrea, and that we don't beat our children. They know that it is against the law in Australia for teachers to beat students, which is a mystery for them, because sadly it is still a common practise here.
I was very proud of my little student who I know loves me from the bottom of her heart, bravely trying to protect me.

I rushed off back to school for evening study, after what had been a surprisingly fascinating day, completely out of the blue. A little touch of India in Bhutan. It's a festival I wouldn't mind celebrating when we get home. It can't hurt to have Lord Vishwakarma on your side.


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