It’s said that every cypress tree in Bhutan tells a tale. And indeed each one has a story.
Besides, being the national tree of Bhutan the cypress is associated with diverse myths and beliefs. Every grain of the cypress tree is seen majestically towering over the dzongs, temples and stupas is imbued with intricate stories.
Such stories are the greatest surprise surrounding the cypress.
Two formidable trees at Baylangdra in Wangdue and at Kurjey in Bumthang are examples of such mythologically awe-inspiring subjects.
The origin of these trees can be traced to the 8th century. For instance the tree at Kurjey is believed to have sprouted from the walking stick of the great saint Guru Padmasambhava, who visited Bhutan to help the King Sindhu Raja of that era to rid the land of a notorious demon deity and also to help cure the king j=himself.
Today, in many villages and communities when such trees are planted, they’re believed to serve as the ‘standing proof’ of the flourishing dharma. Often it is said that the trees will grow only if there is a prophecy that Buddhism will exist without waning. The trees cater to the locality as symbol of worship and blessings.
And if the deformation still seen among the branches is anything to believe, the giant cypress tree growing near the Kurjey Lhakhang is believed to have been planted upside down to the incredulity of science. The guardian of the tree is also believed to have been Shelging Karpo – the local deity subdued by Guru Rinpoche after misery befell the king Sindhu Raja.
Hence, even to this day, for anything to do with trees, special permission needs to be sought from the clay idol of the deity in the sanctum by rolling a pair of dice.
Even to film the tree, people have to roll the dice several times until they receive the auspicious number.
If you need validation of how fiercely the tree is protected by the local deity, you only need to listen to Lam Wangchuk of Kurjey Lhakhang.
He narrates an incident where the preceding Lam after performing special ‘soelkha’ (offering) instructed a monk to cut a small branch to be used as ‘Zung’ (inner relics) for newly built stupa. As the monk started sawing the branch, from beneath the bark, instead of the tree sap, it is believed that red blood oozed out.
The monk survived for another three years after this incident. Lam Wangchuk calculated that the tree is 1201 years old and every attempt by monks to propagate the tree has been futile.
The cypress story of Baylangdra is equally fascinating and surprising.
People offer the logical proof that the tree grew from Guru’s walking stick is prominent and visible from one vantage point which gives a clear view of the fork at the top which represents the point for resting the palm against the walking stick.
The tree is also believed to house relics and confer blessings equivalent to five monasteries.
Every year the tree is revered on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Bhutanese calendar, a day known as ‘Tsenden tsechu’. Come the day, all 35 households of Bay chiwog congregate in the small flat area around the tree and circumambulate the prayer-wheels surrounding the majestic tree. During the day-long ritual, the community relaxes in the Tsechu atmosphere the entire day.
The sponsor for the festival is rotated among community members on an annual basis.
From the porridge served at day-break, the banquet continues way past dawn. However, respecting the sanctity of the day, no meat of any kind is included in the menu, said Daw Penjor, a resident of Bay village.
Many visitors from faraway places visit holy cypress trees such as those at Bay Langdra and at Kurjey Lhakhang. But while the holy trees are a boon to the visitors, the visitors are a bane for the trees. They collect the bark, branches, twigs, leaves, cones and all parts of the tree to be used as materials for blessings.
Such are the wonders of the cypress in Bhutan.