The Aiela – A Grandmother of Goddesses

Monpas believe in appeasing local deities before seeking medical treatment

30 September, 2008 – Dewlemo, 55, has been bedridden for almost a month. She suffers from joint pains and complains of pain in her chest. But she never thought of visiting the nearest Basic Health Unit, about a four-hour walk from her village in Phumzur.

It was not the distance that kept her in the corner of her old smoky house. She had offended Aiela, their local deity, an astrologer had said.

A member of the Monpa community and an ardent believer in Bonism, Dewlemo will conduct an elaborate ritual before seeking medical help. On September 17, when Kuensel visited Dewlemo’s house, her husband was preparing for the ritual.

Phurba, the husband, had made 32 tormas (ritual cakes), spread them on small heaps of wheat placed on banana leaves in a small room. Cups filled with ara (locally brewed alcohol) were placed on other heaps of rice in front of the tormas.

In the small, smoky kitchen attached to the room, Phurba cooks rice and boils eggs to offer to the Aiela. “If Aiela’s not happy with the ritual, she will not recover,” said Phurba as he arranged the cakes.

It is not exactly known when or how the Monpas started worshiping the Aiela. But Aiela, meaning a woman in Khenkha, is invoked or appeased whenever a Monpa falls sick in the 41 households of the Monpa community. “It’s very straightforward. We’ll dream of an old woman if we’ve offended the Aiela,” said a villager, Kempa, 75. “Aiela gets easily offended if we quarrel in the house or if we leave a house vacant for long,” she said.

Besides performing rituals to cure sickness, Monpas worship Aiela twice a year through offerings. First in spring during the sowing season and later in autumn, at harvesting. “The spring ritual is made in expectance of bountiful crops and the fall ritual to thank Aiela for the year’s harvest,” said Jangbi tshogpa Tugpola, who added that worshipping Aiela was an integral part of their culture.

While the main torma is for the Aiela, the others, according to the village pawo, a blind 81-year old man, is for other deities and spirits residing in the mountains, valleys, lakes, forests, streams and cliffs of the Black Mountain range. “I summon them to assist me protect people from misfortune, rivalry, contempt, ailments, epidemics and to ensure a bountiful crop,” said the pawo.

The Monpas used to kill animals, either pig or cow, and offer the meat and blood to the Aiela before. But today the white and yolk of eggs have replaced meat and blood.

Villagers believe that Aiela was the protector of mankind. Monpas in Langthel believe the world came to an end once in the past. “When the world ended, there was just one man who survived,” said Tawla, 70. “One day he dreamt of an old woman, who told him that he would see a bird the next day, which would bring him fortune,” he said.

The next day, when the bird appeared, the man killed it and found rice seeds in its mouth. “He sowed the seeds, became ambitious and started shifting cultivation every year,” he said. “Since then, our ancestors established the tradition of worshipping the Aiela for being our sole protector,” he said. Villagers believe that not appeasing the Aiela would bring misfortune upon them and that their crops would be destroyed.

But the practice of Bonism had changed in recent years. A lot of Monpas have become monks and there are lhakhangs in all the three villages. “The rituals have undergone a change too. The tradition of animal sacrifice has been discontinued,” said Nakari, 51, from Jangbi.

Ending the animal sacrifice not only saved the lives of hundreds of animals but also helped the Monpas. “Many people lived in debt because they bought animals from other places on credit,” said Nakari. “Today we can keep what we harvest from our fields.”

Source: Kuensel
By Tashi Dema

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