Ola Tsha Tsha: A Bon Ritual in Hatey village


The spiritual wellbeing of communities rooted in local beliefs is an important element of the Bhutanese Buddhist identity. Allison (2019) in her paper on bio-cultural resilience, recognizes these local spiritual beliefs as an integral part of the Bhutanese identity. Daily lives of most Bhutanese in traditional villages around the country still carry remnants of such local beliefs in the shape of local traditions and rituals. Scholars in the field have categorized such traditional Bhutanese rituals as Bon chos; an animalistic folk tradition that exist in the form of some Bhutanese practices and beliefs (Montes et al., 2020; Pommaret, 2014).

These traditional rituals are often associated with local deities of the region. A monograph titled Wayo – Wayo – voices from the past published by the Center of Bhutan Studies (2004) detail seven different rituals across the country, propitiating local deities for agricultural abundance and communal wellbeing. Such beliefs and association in local deities are an important part of the local Bhutanese lives, which influence the very fabric of Bhutanese social and biophysical space (Montes et al., 2020). Different regions in the country have their own local deities that the local people propitiate to; Ap Chundu in Haa, Ap Radrap in Wangdue Phodrang (Dorji, 2008), Ap Gyenyen and Domtshang in Thimphu, and many more.

There is an interconnectedness between such rituals and the local way of life; psychological wellbeing that stems from spiritual practices and beliefs preserving local natural resources. Hence, in the region, specific places “ranging from rocks and trees to rivers, cliffs, and entire mountains, the sky above and underground” (Allison, 2019, p. 6) in the landscape have been associated with spiritual deities. The local Bhutanese interact with the landscape through territorial deities often for the purpose of “reciprocal negotiation of human and the natural world” (ibid, p. 13). Besides the close relationship of the people with their physical landscape, animals also play an important part in these spiritual interactions. Bhutan is an agrarian society and animals play an important part in the livelihood of the people. According to the most recent population census of Bhutan, agriculture employs the most Bhutanese at 49.1% (PHCB, 2017). Besides the domesticated animals that provide sustenance and work power, wild animals have been at the center of Bhutanese folklore and beliefs. For example, the national animal, raven is celebrated and is an essential part of some local traditions and beliefs.

A local Bon ritual in Hatey village in Haa Dzongkhag[1] symbolically view raven and the common crows as carriers of such traditions even today.


A local ritual of propitiating deities is known as Soelkha (gsol kha) in Bhutan. The soelkha ritual conducted in an open field next to the Hatey village is popularly known as Ola Tsha Tsha, although similar ritual of the same name is also performed in different places around Haa and Paro Dzongkhags. The Dzongkha word ‘Ola’ translates to ‘crow’ in English, but the meaning of the word ‘Tsha Tsha’ is unknown. Simply put, Ola Tsha Tsha is an annual ritual of appeasing local deities in the region by making food offerings to crows. The locals would prepare a food offering consisting of meat, fruits, ritual cakes, and different food, and recite mantras on a specific site appeasing local deities. The locals in the area make offering to their local deity Joya Chundu, who they say is the Zimpoen[2] to the protective deity Ap Chundu, the main deity to whom this local ritual is performed for.

According to an oral source in Hatey village, the ritual of making offering to crows was initially meant for ravens due to the significance of the animal in Bhutanese society. Locals say that there was a pair of ravens in the region that would always come to the offering site, but today the pair is replaced by common crows. Once the crows feed on the offerings made, people consider that the deity is pleased and consider it auspicious. Locals say that when the crows do not show up, people making this offering would have to wait there until these animals show up. This waiting for the arrival of crows according to them would sometimes last from dawn to dusk, and the absence of crows would indicate bad omen.


There are no written accounts of this ritual, and the informants do not know when the practice was started. The practice of propitiating to the local deity has existed in the locality for ages.  All the interviewees said that this tradition existed for generations, and it is hard to put an exact date on when this ritual started. This ritual which can be categorized as a Bon tradition might have existed during the prevalence of Bon chos in the region. Pommaret (2014) suggests that such non-Buddhist practices might have existed before the introduction and propagation of Buddhism in Bhutan.

The locals in the area believe that this ritual of making an offering to their local protective deity is to appease the deities for the benefit of the villagers and the individuals.  Phub Dem (2019) notes that this practice protects the family from misfortune, and the family must appease the deity yearly. Furthermore, she claims that the propitiating of such local deities is also done to seek blessings for business, fortune, safety, and protection.  Furthermore, the locals believe that if this age-old tradition is not followed, then ill luck and harm would come to the individuals and families not appeasing the deities.

According to the interviewees, people who originate from the Bji gewog in Haa district must all come to Dungkar Chumey, in Hatey village for the ritual. People who reside in other parts of the country who come from this area must make this annual visit for the ritual. Different regions in this north eastern part of the country also have such areas where this kind of ritual is conducted.


The Hatey village is a small community of 55-60 households, and the village and communal fields of the community lies next to the Yakchu stream, a tributary of the Haa chu[3] in the Haa valley. The settlement along the Haa-Damthang national highways is placed in between Damthang and Yangthang villages. The popular Gaychu Lhakhang[4] which is known as the citadel of the protective deity Ap Chundu is also near the village.

The swampy marsh land approximately measuring 1.16 acres where the Ola Tsha Tsha ritual is performed is located east of the village. The site is about 300 meters away from the village as the crow flies. This clearing in the forest next to the Yakchu stream is located on latitude 27°24’58.55″ N and longitude 89°12’55.70″ E. This location next to the communal fields of the village has a big boulder in the middle, and all offerings are made near this rock. According to a local source, this boulder is shaped like a conch, which became the namesake of the location. This site is locally known as Dungkar Chumey because of the Dungkar[5] shaped boulder and presence of water. A small manmade water well of stones is located near this rock; water from this pond is used for the washing of the yak ribs for the ritual. People believe that this water is holy, and in the olden days the water could cure common eye ailments and moral and physical pollution (grib). In the past, people would pour milk and butter in the pond to cleanse it.


The ritual begins with the Pawo[6] making preparations for the offering. These local healers are an important part of the rituals because they recite prayers during the offerings. Phub Dem (2019) in her newspaper article on this ritual, adds that elder male of the family usually does these recitations[7]. A local healer interviewee said that today most people do not know the words of the prayers used during the ritual. These local pawos are the main people who make preparation for the ritual and recite the prayers later.

First, the traditional spiritual healer makes a torma[8] out of roasted wheat flour locally known as Kapche. This torma is made by mixing wheat flour, local cow butter, milk, sugar, and Chang Phee[9]. According to oral sources, yak butter is preferred for the making of the ritual cakes, and in the olden times people would use jaggery[10] instead of sugar for the torma mix. Once the ritual cakes of different shapes and sizes approximately ranging from 2 inches to 8 inches are made and decorated with white circular butter shapes, other offerings are readied.

Cooked Bhutanese food is specially prepared for the ritual with an assortment of different fruits and groceries also included. Cooked rice, Bhutanese curry, dried meat, tea, local alcohol, and other daily food are some of the common items prepared. According to an oral source, only yak meat, goat meat, and fish can be included in the offering. A rib of the yak is an essential component for the ritual, and this part of the animal must be carried to the ritual site. Furthermore, the source added that pork and beef must be excluded in the assortment of offering. Some of the procedures on what to offer during the ritual is mentioned in the Ola Tsha Tsha hymn. As per the locals, today some people who make the offerings choose to bring only vegetarian food and offer cheese and butter because of their own dietary choices.

The offerings are then carried to the local site which is about 5 minutes’ walk from the village. Once the locals arrive at the conch shaped boulder, they prepare the offerings. The water well near the boulder is used to wash the yak rib which is covered in a multicolored dhar[11]. Once other fruits and food items are washed, the pawo cuts them into pieces to make an offering plate containing all the food items brought alongside the ritual cakes. In the meanwhile, others accompanying the pawo burns pine leaves as sang[12].

Once the plates of food offerings are placed on a small stone mantle near the boulder, the local spiritual healer recites the hymn, others accompanying the healer starts prostrating to the offering plate and rock. First the Chang Phee is offered during the start of the recitation, then the pawo offers the food by cutting them into smaller pieces starting with the yak rib meat. While reciting the prayers of the hymn, the pieces of food are thrown on the boulder. The crows present in the area answer the calls of the recitations and fly towards the offerings to eat them. Once this happens, the hymn is completed and the remaining food is offered to the people as tshog[13]. The people gathered also make cash offering (Nyendar) making wishes. According to an oral source, if members of a family cannot come to the ritual, they can send nyendar instead to receive blessings.

According to oral sources, in the past, this ritual would take place over five days. In the first two days, the men in the village would play an archery match in the village as archery is known to please the local deities. Then on the third day, people would gather in Dungkar Chumey and play archery there and prepare all the offerings for the ritual. A pawo would then recite the hymns which would be repeated by all the men present there. After all the rituals are completed, they would return and gather in a specific house in the village to continue on the festivities. Today, all such festivities associated with the ritual is not carried out, only a communal ritual in a year is conducted to appease the deity. The ritual has also become an individualized act of families from the region propitiating their local deities to seek their blessings and protection.

Generally, this ritual is conducted at a time in between the 10th and 12th months of the Bhutanese calendar yearly. According to locals, for the ritual done in Dungkar Chumey, the date would usually fall on the 3rd to 5th day in the 11th month of the Bhutanese calendar. They add that this ritual should not be performed on the 1st and 2nd day of the month. The practice is carried out once in a year, but if there is a need for the ritual to be performed then it can be done at any time. Usually, a local astrologer would consult the Zakar for the best day for the conduct of this ritual.

Lyrics of Hymn

The following is the English transliteration of the ritual hymn derived from a rough Dzongkha transcription of an audio recording;

ཕོ་ལྷ་མ་གསང་ཆེན་པོ། །དམག་དཔོན་ཆེན་པོ། །དགྲ་ལྷའི་རྒྱལ་པོ། །ཕྱི་གངས་ཆེན་བརྒྱད་ཀྱི་བདག་པོ། །ནང་གནས་ཁང་བདུན་གྱི་བདག་པོ། །སྤྲུལ་པའི་རྒྱལ་པོ་ཁྱུང་འདུས། །ཕོ་ལྷ་མ་གསང་ཁྱུང་འདུས། །དམག་དཔོན་ཆེན་པོ། །ལོ་དུས་ཅིག་ཟེར་འདི་མ་ཕྱི། །ཕྱག་རྒྱལ་པོའི་ཕྱག་ཕྱིད་ཞུ། །ཕྱག་རྒྱལ་པོའི་བཀའ་ཅིག་སྒྲུབས། །རྒྱ་ལས་རྔ་བརྡུང་སྟེ་རྒྱ་ལུ་མ་བྱོན། །བོད་ལས་བསུ་བ་འབད་དེ་བོད་ལུ་མ་བྱོན། །ཕོ་ལྷ་ཆེན་པོ་མ་གསང་ཁྱུང་འདུས། །དམག་དཔོན་ཆེན་པོ། །དགྲ་ལྷའི་རྒྱལ་པོ། །ཕྱི་གངས་ཆེན་བརྒྱད་ཀྱི་བདག་པོ། །ནང་གནས་ཁང་བདུན་གྱི་བདག་པོ། །སྤྲུལ་པའི་རྒྱལ་པོ་ཁྱུང་འདུས་ཨིན་ནོ། །ཨོ་ལ་རྩ་རྩ། །

pho lha ma gsang chen po// dmag dpon chen po// dgra lha’i rgyal po// phyi gangs chen brgyad kyi bdag po// nang gnas khang bdun gyi bdag po// sprul pa’i rgyal po khyung ‘dus// pho lha ma gsang khyung ‘dus// dmag dpon chen po// lo dus cig zer ‘di ma phyi// phyag rgyal po’i phyag phyid zhu// phyag rgyal po’i bka’ cig sgrubs// rgya las rnga brdung ste rgya lu ma byon// bod las bsu ba ‘bad de bod lu ma byon// pho lha chen po ma gsang khyung ‘dus// dmag dpon chen po// dgra lha’i rgyal po// phyi gangs chen brgyad kyi bdag po// nang gnas khang bdun gyi bdag po// sprul pa’i rgyal po khuyng ‘dus in no// o la rtsa rtsa//

ཕྱག་རྒྱལ་པོའི་ཕྱག་ཕྱིད་ཞུ། །ཕྱག་རྒྱལ་པོའི་བཀའ་ཅིག་སྒྲུབས། །རྒྱ་ལས་རྔ་བརྡུང་སྟེ་རྒྱ་ལུ་མ་བྱོན། །བོད་ལས་བསུ་བ་འབད་དེ་བོད་ལུ་མ་བྱོན།།ཕོ་ལྷ་ཆེན་པོ་མ་གསང་ཁྱུང་འདུས། །དམག་དཔོན་ཆེན་པོ། །དགྲ་ལྷའི་རྒྱལ་པོ། །ཕྱི་གངས་ཆེན་བརྒྱད་ཀྱི་བདག་པོ། །།ནང་གནས་ཁང་བདུན་གྱི་བདག་པོ། །སྤྲུལ་པའི་རྒྱལ་པོ་ཁྱུང་འདུས་ཨིན་ནོ། ཕོ་ལྷ་ཆེན་པོ་མ་གསང་ཁྱུང་འདུས། །དམག་དཔོན་ཆེན་པོ། །དགྲ་ལྷའི་རྒྱལ་པོ་བཞེས་ཅིག། །ཕྱག་འཚལ་ལོ། །ཨོ་ལ་རྩ་རྩ། །

phyag rgyal po’i phyag phyid zhu// phyag rgyal po’i bka’ cig sgrubs// rgya las rnga brdung ste rgya lu ma byon// bod las bsu ba ‘bad de bod lu ma byon// pho lha chen po ma gsang khyung ‘dus// dmag dpon chen po// dgra lha’i rgyal po// phyi gangs chen brgyad kyi bdag po// nang gnas khang bdun gyi bdag po// sprul pa’i rgyal po khuyng ‘dus in no// pho lha chen po ma gsang khyung ‘dus// dmag dpon chen po// dgra lha’i rgyal po// phyag ‘tshal lo// o la rtsa rtsa//

གཡག་གངས་ལས་ཕབ་ནི་ཨིན་ནོ། །གསེར་མིག་འདི་མཚོ་ལས་སྟོནམ་ཨིན་ནོ། །ཕྱག་རྒྱལ་པོའི་བཀའ་ཅིག་སྒྲུབས།།ཕྱག་རྒྱལ་པོའི་འདོད་པ་གསོ་ཡི་ག།ཇོ་བོ་བཙན་གྱི་རྒྱལ་པོ། །འཚབ་དང་འཚུབ་གཏང་མ་ད། །རྐྱེན་དང་བར་ཆད་གཏང་མ་ད། །ཕྱག་རྒྱལ་པོའི་བཀའ་ཅིག་སྒྲུབས། །ཕྱག་རྒྱལ་པོའི་འདོད་པ་གསོ་ཡི་ག །ཕོ་ ལྷ་ཆེན་པོ་མ་གསང་ཁྱུང་འདུས། །དམག་དཔོན་ཆེན་པོ། །དགྲ་ལྷའི་རྒྱལ་པོ། །ཕྱི་གངས་ཆེན་བརྒྱད་ཀྱི་བདག་པོ། །ནང་གནས་ཁང་བདུན་གྱི་བདག་པོ། །སྤྲུལ་པའི་རྒྱལ་པོ་ཁྱུང་འདུས་ཨིན་ནོ། །རྒྱ་ལས་རྔ་བརྡུང་སྟེ་རྒྱ་ལུ་མ་བྱོན་པར། །བོད་ལས་བསུ་བ་འབད་དེ་བོད་ལུ་མ་བྱོན་པར། །ཕྱག་འཚལ་ལོ། །འཚབ་དང་འཚུབ་གཏང་མ་ད། །རྐྱེན་དང་བར་ཆད་གཏང་མ་ད། །ད་རེས་ཁྱོད་ཀྱི་གསོལ་མཆོད་འདི་བཞེས་པར་འབྱོན། །ཕོ་ལྷ་ཆེན་པོ་མ་གསང་ཁྱུང་འདུས། །དམག་དཔོན་ཆེན་པོ། །དགྲ་ལྷའི་རྒྱལ་པོ། །ཕྱི་གངས་ཆེན་བརྒྱད་ཀྱི་བདག་པོ། །ནང་གནས་ཁང་བདུན་གྱི་བདག་པོ།།སྤྲུལ་པའི་རྒྱལ་པོ་ཁྱུང་འདུས་ཨིན་ནོ།།ཕྱག་རྒྱལ་པོའི་བཀའ་ཅིག་སྒྲུབས།།ཕྱག་རྒྱལ་པོའི་འདོད་པ་གསོ་ཡི་ག །ཕྱག་འཚལ་ལོ། །ཨོ་ལ་རྩ་རྩ། །

gyag gangs las phab pa in no// gser mig mtsho las stonma in no// phyag rgyal po’i bka’ cig sgrubs// phyag rgyal po’i ‘dod pa gso yi ga// jo bo btsan gyi rgyal po// ‘tshab dang ‘tshub gtang ma da// rkyen dang bar chad gtang ma da// phyag rgyal po’i bka’ cig sgrubs// phyag rgyal po’i ‘dod pa gso yi ga// pho lha chen po ma gsang khyung ‘dus// dmag dpon chen po// dgra lha’i rgyal po// phyi gangs chen brgyad kyi bdag po// nang gnas khang bdun gyi bdag po// sprul pa’i rgyal po khuyng ‘dus in no// rgya las rnga brdung ste rgya lu ma byon par// bod las bsu ba ‘bad de bod lu ma byon par// ‘phyag ‘tshal lo// ‘tshab dang ‘tshub gtang ma da// rkyen dang bar chad gtang ma da// da res khyod kyi gsol mchod ‘di bzhes par ‘byon// pho lha chen po ma gsang khyung ‘dus// dmag dpon chen po// dgra lha’i rgyal po// phyi gangs chen brgyad kyi bdag po// nang gnas khang bdun gyi bdag po// sprul pa’i rgyal po khuyng ‘dus in no// phyag rgyal po’i bka’ cig sgrubs// phyag rgyal po’i ‘dod pa gso yi ga// phyag ‘tshal lo// o la rtsa rtsa//

རྒྱ་ལས་རྔ་བརྡུང་སྟེ་རྒྱ་ལུ་མ་བྱོན་པར། །བོད་ལས་བསུ་བ་འབད་དེ་བོད་ལུ་མ་བྱོན་པར། །ཕྱག་རྒྱལ་པོའི་བཀའ་ཅིག་སྒྲུབས། །ཕྱག་རྒྱལ་པོའི་འདོད་པ་གསོ་སྟེ་ཡི་ག །ཕྱག་འཚལ་ལོ། །

rgya las rnga brdung ste rgya lu ma byon par// bod las bsu ba ‘bad de bod lu ma byon par// phyag rgyal po’i bka’ cig sgrubs// phyag rgyal po’i ’dod pa gso yi ga// phyag ‘tshal lo//

ང་བཅས་དབང་དང་དངོས་གྲུབ་ཞུ་བ་ཨིན། །དངོས་གྲུབ་ཀྱི་བསྐལ་བ་སྟོན། །ལྷ་ལས་རེ་བ་དེ་བུའི་དངོས་གྲུབ། །ནོར་གྱི་དངོས་གྲུབ་ཨིན། །མི་ལུ་ན་ཚ་གཏང་མ་ད། །འཚབ་དང་འཚུབ་གཏང་མ་ད། །དངོས་གྲུབ་དེ་བཞེས་པར་འབྱོན་ཅིག །ཕྱག་ཚལ་ལོ། །

nga bcas dbang dang dngos grub zhu ba in// dngos grub kyi bskal ba ston// lha las re ba de bu’i dngos grub// nor gyi dngos grub in// mi lu na tsha gtang ma da// ‘tshab dang ‘tshub gtang ma da// dngos grub de bzhes par ‘byin cig// phyag ‘tshal lo//

ད་ཤེས་བྱ་ནང་ལུ། །ཁག་གསུམ་གྱི་ཁ། །ཉེས་གསུམ་གྱི་ཉེས། །བྱཱར་གསུམ་འདི་ཆུའི་ཁག །དགུན་གསུམ་འདི་མེའི་ཁག །བར་གསུམ་འདི་རླུང་གི་ཁག །ཁག་དང་ཉེས་བཅས་དྲོང་ཡི་པ། །ཕྱག་རྒྱལ་པོའི་བཀའ་ཅིག་སྒྲུབས། །

da shes bya nang lu// khag gsum gyi kha// nyes gsum gyi nyes// byAr gsum ‘di chu’i khag// dgun gsum ‘di rlung gi khag// khag dang nyes bcas drong yi pa// phyag rgyal po’i bka’ cig sgrubs/

ད། ཞརཝ་གིས་མ་མཐོང་ལོ། །འོན་པ་གིས་མ་གོ་ལོ། །ཞོཝ་གིས་མ་ལྷོད་ལོ། །ཕྱག་རྒྱལ་པོའི་བཀའ་ཅིག་སྒྲུབས། །ཕྱག་རྒྱལ་པོའི་འདོད་པ་གསོ་ཡི་བ། །དེ་ཟ། ། དེ་འཐུང་། །ནུབ་ཕྱོགས་བདེ་བ་ཅན་ཞིང་ཁམས་ནང་འབྱོན་ཅིག །ཨོྂ་ཨཱ་ཧཱུྃཿ

da// zharwa gis ma mthong lo// ‘on pa gis ma go lo// zhowa gis ma lhod lo// phyag rgyal po’i bka’ cig sgrubs// phyag rgyal po’i ‘dod pa gso yi ba// de za// de ‘thung// nub phyogs bde ba can zhing nang ‘byon cig// oM A huM (om̥ ā hūm̥)



Local rituals and beliefs such as this are rooted deep within the Bhutanese psyche even without much understanding of where it originated and when it began.  However, such rituals have a direct association with the wellbeing of the village and people living there. These rituals are often performed according to the agricultural season, as a part of the daily lives of the average agricultural Bhutanese. Pommaret (2014) recognizes that these ‘community rituals’ in Bhutan are often performed at plantation time or after the harvest. Hence, such traditions and rituals often serve the purpose of protection of physical livelihood like water sources and agricultural lands from degradation, and successful harvest depend on these resources. Besides the physical purpose of conserving watersheds, these rituals also protect the psychological wellbeing of the people and invoke a sense of belonging to a place.

However, external influences like climate change can influence the very foundation on which these traditions are built on. According to a local, the pond in the ritual site dried up and people had to dig a new pit. Such instances of water drying up is a regular occurrence in watersheds across the country. Furthermore, locals note that in the past there were ravens that would come to the ritual sites, but today common crows have replaced these symbolic animals. Besides the issue of climate change, the changes in the mindset of people towards these kinds of rituals pose a threat to its future existence. Slaughtering of animals to appease deities during these kinds of rituals are now extinct due to religious sentiments, and now even the offering of meat seems to be changing due to personal choices of people conducting these rituals. With time and lifestyles, traditions seem to evolve with it, therefore documenting these traditions in its current form might provide a window for future researchers.


  1. Namgay Dorji (Principal, Wangdue Primary School, Wangdue Phodrang)
  2. Tshering Gyem (Shop keeper, Hatey, Haa)
  3. Lhab Tshering (Retired civil servant, 69 years old)
  4. Tshering (Pawo, Hatey, 42 years old)



Jigme Wangdi, Associate Lecturer, College of Language and Culture Studies


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[1] District

[2] Secretary

[3] Chu means river/water in the Dzongkha language

[4] Temple

[5] Bhutanese word for sea conch

[6] Local spiritual healer

[7] https://businessbhutan.bt/pleasing-gods-and-deities-age-old-bonism-practice-still-lives-on/

[8] Ritual cakes made of dough

[9] Locally brewed alcohol

[10] Cane sugar

[11] Silk scarf

[12] Incense or fumigation

[13] Blessed edibles

(Click on the Thumbnails to view the Photo Gallery)