Villagers in Sewala Gewog in Punakha hold the utmost belief in their local deity called Damcho Gomo. They believe that their deity brings them good fortune and health as the deity can cure them of illness. Their lives revolve around Damcho Gomo as they seek his blessings for even travelling out of their village.
Gewog Administration of Chhuboog Gewog, Punakha said that the people believe that Gomo is the attendant of the Truelku of Sewla Dzong and the Damchen Gomo is considered as the local deity of that area.
The villagers of the three Chiwogs (Janhwakha Sewala, Bali and Yebisa) under Chhuboog Gewog also hold an annual ritual in honour of Gomo. People gather for the ritual to worship the deity at the Sewla Dzong on the 13th Day of the Third Month of the Bhutanese calendar. The preparation begins from the 10th Day of the 3rd Month until the 15th Day of 3rd Month.
Damcho Gomo is believed to be born in Ralung (Tibet) and was invited to Bhutan by a lama. According to Umzey of Sewala Lhakhang, Damchen Gomo is a manifestation (Tuepa) of Chana Dorje. He said that the terrifying face of Gomo is to subdue those who commit wrongful deeds. Through the three eyes of Damchen Gomo, he has the ability to foresee and predict the past, present and future of all the sentient beings.
The standing hair on the statue signifies that he takes care of all the sentient beings by granting every wish made, but only if they pray with full dedication. Finally, Damchen Gomo is riding on a horse, which signifies that, no matter what, he is able to fulfill the wishes and deeds within a very short duration.
To the utter dismay of the people, the statue of Gomo went missing from Sewala Lhakhang on 16 March 2009 for six years. The statue was kept inside Goenkhana where no individuals are allowed to enter.
A special investigation team (SIT) of RBP found that the door of the lhakhang was damaged and found other valuables missing and the cloth or outfit of the statue thrown outside the lhakhang.
On 27 May 2015, Phuentsholing police arrested a 29-year-old man in Thimphu who had the statue up for sale. Upon interrogation the police established a link between the person, a guide, and a hotelier in Babesa. SIT found out that the guide had asked the hotelier to help him sell the statue, whereby the guide forwarded the picture of Gomo statue to the hotelier through WeChat.
The recovered statue was confirmed to be the Damchen Gomo statue after the Department of Culture and the Central Monastic Body verified it. The statue was escorted back to lhakhang in August 2015, much to the jubilation of the people.
The suspect told police that he had brought the statue from his grandmother’s house in Trongsa after her death last year. His younger sister, who was living with the grandmother, told police that she heard her grandmother saying that the statue belonged to a 40-year-old man who later turned out to be the main suspect. Last month, SIT arrested the main suspect who is from Punakha.
Upon interrogation, SIT found that the main suspect served as a caretaker of the Namgyal Tshe Lhakhang from 2000 to 2002 when he was a caretaker of the lhakhang.
The suspect told police that he had met the deceased woman when he was doing a vegetable sale business in Bumthang and Trongsa after retiring from the monk body. He confessed that he had broken the latch to the lhakhang to steal the statue and returned to Khuruthang the same night with the statue.
Few days later, the deceased woman came to Khuruthang with another man to collect the statue. The main suspect told police that the woman had agreed to give him half the amount after selling the statue.
The 62-year-old man was also arrested, who accompanied the late woman. The suspect also stole cat’s eye beads (dzee) and a silver amulet but the team could not recover the ornaments.
The case has been charge sheeted to OAG, but however, the case has been dropped since they did not have strong evidence against the suspect and the other man. The villagers are not happy with the decision as they feel it may encourage more of such crimes in the future.