Thang’kuh: An ancestral home

Written by Vishal Chamling
December 19, 2020

“You live in houses now, we lived in caves then. This was our home”, spoke a deep masculine voice out of a female body which sat in a calm meditative trance. It was like your grandfather telling you stories where you listened, attentive and in awe. This was the experience that I had when I first visited the caves of Thang’kuh in the year exactly ten years before.

Pic: Anil Rai

Located in an idyllic roadside village below  Pubong Fatak, enroute Sukhiapokhari, it is about 15 km south west of Darjeeling. It also goes famously by the name ‘Galdang-Guldung’ meaning ‘tumbling or to tumble’ , chiefly because of how the caves are formed, as if the big rocks have tumbled and formed them by landing on top of each other. The Ancestors, however, have a different tale to tell.

Yaboh Sam Sum Chu, the Supreme Ancestor of the five primordial ancestors, explains in an ancient oral discourse, Mundhum, that Yaboh Chendum carried the big rocks with his big bare hands and flew from “Himsekh”, the mountains to shelter the ancestors who had decided to rest here. They spent eons here until one day Yaboh Yanghayang – the Warrior and his consort Yangangini went into Samadhi in one of the caves to return to Sa’mah’yoh, the eternal world

Pic: Anil Rai

“They played here and they made merry, your clan”, continued Yaboh Sam Sum Chu as he stroked his beard from a feminine chin of the Numaang, Sabi Subba, who was still in a meditative state. The beard was invisible to us, a small crowd of believers, seated on the stony floor of the main cave but the stroking was unmistakably precise. I have a similar beard so I know.

“Oh, the playful, the mischievous Yaboh Chyapu would bother the quiet and wise Yaboh Pfapa Sangey”, he reminisced and suddenly exclaimed, “Sa’wa’la!”, signalling for the chöd drum and chöpen to be brought to him. Anil Rai, a long haired attendant of the Numaang,  rushed instantly with his head bowed in reverence and on his knees, to hand over the instruments to Yaboh Sam Sum Chu. The atmosphere inside the cave was that of an era that was not of this age. The serene forest cover and the clear blue sky outside complimented the astral experience.

Pic: Anil Rai

Almost abruptly the ringing of a mobile phone from the crowd brought me back to the millennium.

Yaboh Sam Sum Chu wasn’t perturbed by the ringing phone as he continued to sing the Mundhum with a perfect beat of the drums never missing the tempo.

Vishal Chamling

An academic and travel organizer from Darjeeling with a deep interest in the Himalayan way of life. Vishal writes about the future of Himalayan indigenous culture, entrepreneurship, productivity and philosophies.

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