The fragmented filming and research—which for now has taken the shape of this brief article and five short videos— was conducted over two years. We first filmed the Bagh (mask) ritual of Kardang village in January 2017, returning again in the summer of 2017 to gather more information. Our initial plan was to document the ritual in the winter of 2015. But that year (pre-tunnel), we couldn’t reach Lahul on time, owing to the erratic winter helicopter service and miscommunication over precise dates with my grandmother’s family in Kardang.
The Bagh ceremony of Kardang, we were told, is unique and one of the few remaining remnants of Lahuli folk tradition. Those aware of the ritual cited it as a living case of Buddhist and pre-Buddhist symbiosis in the valley, and also informed us about similar bagh based rituals elsewhere—like in the villages of Jobrang, Goshal and Yor in Miyar valley—both in the trans-Himalayas and across Western Himalayas. We were specifically cautioned about the strict codes and conducts of this village-bound ritual. No one outside of Kardang village is allowed to witness the ritual unless one enters the village before Kuns, the local new year, commences. In such cases, those who enter the village can leave only once the bagh ritual concludes. The rule to not cross the village boundary applies to Kardangpas as well. People from the neighboring village of Gozzang, however, are allowed, but not via the main pathway that cuts through the village. The only permitted access for Gozzangpas during this time is the route that runs along the village boundary.
In 2017, when we finally managed to reach Kardang on time, it was after four consecutive days of waiting at the airport in Bhuntar, hoping for the helicopter to show up. First day, there was an issue with air pressure; on the second day, the then Chief Minister was touring Kangra with the same helicopter; on the third day, it was supposedly off to Chandigarh for servicing. Finally, on the fourth day, we took off at 3 p.m. from Bhuntar airport to Stingri (the nearest helipad to Keylong). That year, we finally witnessed the night of Halda (wooden fire torches) in Kardang, followed by the three days of bagh ritual.
Following, you can see the first of the five video series we have composed. The narrating voice is of Uncle Dorje, who warmly welcomed us in his house. Along with other Kardangpas, Uncle Dorje brings out Halda at night, gathering again in the afternoon the next day for mangs-alcha, opening of the masks, or the “opening of the dream”.
Aawa (father) and Aama (mother) bagh are considered embodiments of male and female deity. Any unwanted actions and impurity are likely to offend them, as well as Tsoro, their seven children. Adults continue to partake in the ritual for several reasons: from not disrupting the annual village ritual calendar, the ritual’s village centric character, to being guided by reasons of faith, belonging, fear and loss. For children, it offers the possibility of collective play, dance and fun. The very act of kyorbi, to play, remains central even in the ritual’s current manifestation, as told to us by an aging Palmo Karpa (89 years old when we interviewed her), and affirmed by the young kids of Kardang who wait eagerly to tease and provoke the bagh family.Continue reading “Aawa and Aama Bagh in Kardang, my abi ji’s village”