Haa Lo-choe

In Brief:

Lo-choe, the annual household ritual is observed by every household in Bhutan. People of Haa begin the annual Lo-choe right after the Lomba festival which falls in the eleventh month of the Bhutanese lunar calendar. It is performed to thank Dharma protectors and local deities for their protection, and to make prayer to bring more peace and harmony for the family and community in the coming years. It is performed by lay practitioners in the community and monks in the urban places.  Lo-choe is a composite and mixture ritual of Bon, the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet and the tantric practice of Mahayana tradition which is connected and complex, and very difficult to draw a distinct line between these two phenomena.


Each household of Haa region begins the annual Lo-choe right after the celebration of Lomba, a New Year festival which is observed on 29th of the eleventh Bhutanese month. The annual Lo-choe is performed on one of the auspicious days that is decided by the local astrologer. For the elders, the annual Lo-choe is a very special and important ritual to make offerings to the protective deities for their protection and continuous blessings. It is also considered as a social gathering where all the family members, relatives, siblings and neighbors come together once in a year where they can share their feelings, concerns and social bonding.

The lay practitioners of Yangthang village and monks of Yangto Goenpa (monastery) are very busy as usual in January and February due to heavy schedule of Lo-choe. Each household aims to organize the annual Lo-choe within January and February. All the family and relatives of the household contribute in cash as well as in kinds for the annual Lo-choe. They all gather during annual Lo-choe to pay respect to their protective deities and to make prayers for good health and prosperity in life for the coming years.


Historical Background of Lo-choe

The history of Lo-choe is very much connected to Bon practice, the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet as well as ritualistic practices of the tantric Buddhism. Bon tradition was present in Bhutan for many centuries before the spread of Buddhism. In Bhutan making offerings to the local deities, consulting astrologer for prediction, respecting the landscape features as the dwelling places of gods and spirits, worshiping the local deities for peace and prosperity of family and community are still observed in different parts of Bhutan.

The written sources suggest that Indian tantric practices such as radical forms of ritual practices and meditation techniques for accelerating spiritual progress were further transmitted to Tibet by the eighty four Mahasiddhas (Perfected ones). This tradition was seen as an alternative path to Mahayana and it was termed Ngagi Thablam (the Mantra method), in contrast to the perfection method. This tradition provides more scope for lay practitioners in particular, rather than monks and nuns.

The Mantra method was subdivided into two groups-Kriya-tantra (emphasizing rituals), and Yoga- tantra (emphasizing meditative practices). The Kriya-tantra is rich in rituals and ceremonials. In Tibet, the rituals are regularly performed by the Buddhist monks and the lay practitioners of all schools. The most common form of ritual is Buddha-Puja which is honoring the Buddha and Bodhisattvas by making a small offering such as a flower, a lamp, food and a sum of money. Later people extended rituals with large size of offerings and it became part of regular tradition in Tibet. The Tantric tradition is bonded by the complex ritual practices like altar arrangements, involving various types of offering items, representations and symbolic objects, mantra recitations, hand gestures and visualization. It also requires using various types of religious instruments such as drum, cymbal, bell, conch, trumpet, bone trumpet and Vajra.

Guru Padmasambhava, an Indian tantric master visited Bhutan in the eight century CE, at the invitation of Sindu Raja, the local King of Bumthang. Guru Padmasambhava who is also known as Guru Rinpoche and the second Buddha in Bhutan brought with him Tantric Buddhism. Among the Tantric schools, the Kagyu School was well known as Tantric practitioners through the prominent lamas such as Marpa, Jetsun Milarepa, Rechung Dorji Drakpa, Gampopa, Choje Tsangpa Gyarey Yeshi Dorji, Phajo Drukgom Shigpo, Drukpa Kuenley, Ngawang Choegyel, and Ngagi Wangchuk among others. The lamas of the Drukpa Kagyu School made frequent visits to Bhutan since the thirteenth century. They built several temples and established monasteries in different regions, mostly in western Bhutan.

Moreover, among the Drukpa lamas, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594-1651) is well-known as the superhero that unified Bhutan in the seventeenth century. He was asked by the Desi Phuntsho Namgyal, the ruler of Tsang province of Tibet to step down from the throne and handover the Ralung monastery along with all the properties to Pagsam Wangpo, who claimed to be the true reincarnation of Kunkhen Padma Karpo, the predecessor lama of the Ralung monastery. Lam Zhabdrung and his family refused to hand over Ralung monastery and the sacred relic Ranjung Kharsapani to his opponent claimant. This led to Lam Zhabdrung leaving his homeland for Bhutan in 1616 AD.


Lam Zhabdrung was welcomed by the people of Laya and family of Goen Hobtsho Lama from Gasa, in northern Bhutan. After a few days, he marched towards Punakha valley and reached Druk Thinleygang, the place blessed by his great-grandfather Ngawang Choegyel (1465-1540) in the fifteen century. There he performed Soel-Choe, an offering ritual to thank Yeshi Gonpo, Leygon Jaro-Dongchen, the protectors and other local deities of western regions for giving him peace and a safe journey to Bhutan and to beseech further protection in order to expand the Drukpa tradition in Bhutan. Then he continued his journey towards Thimphu valley where Tshewang Tenzin, the son of Drukpa Kuenley from the nobility family of Tango Choje, extended him warm hospitality and necessary support. With the help of this noble family, Lam Zhabdrung performed Kang-so, the ritual of appeasement at Dechenphu temple in upper Thimphu. This ritual was conducted to appease Ganyen Jagpa Melen, the deity of Dechenphu temple and Thimphu region to ask his help to protect him and make it safe for him to live in Bhutan.

Lam Zhabdrung decided to visit all the places blessed by his great grandfathers and father. Then he set out to Paro valley where he decided to make a third grand offering ritual Soel-choe to the protective deities at Druk Choding Lhakhang in Paro. In the middle of the ceremony, they heard the agonizing sound of Tibetan soldiers screaming outside the temple. Lam Zhabdrung and his attendants knew it was a sudden attack from the Tibetan soldiers sent by his opponent Desi Phuntsho Namgyal, the Tibetan ruler of Tsang province. Lam Zhabdrung managed to escape with attendants from the battle ground. The Zarchen Choje, the noble family of Paro, raised a local militia from Chang and Wang valleys of Paro to fight against the Tibetan soldiers. The Bhutanese soldiers brought victory over the Tibetans by killing Laguna, the chief of the Tibetan army. His head and hands were brought to Lam Zhabdrung which was later installed in the Gonkhang, a sacred place of local deities at Chari monastery in Thimphu. Right after the battle, Lam Zhabdrung performed Tang-ra, the ritual of grand offering at Chari monastery in 1618 in the honour of marking victory over the first Tibetan battle and to thank Mahakala (Yeshe Gonpo) and other deities for their magical power and manifestation shown in the battle field.

Desi Phuntsho Namgyal, the ruler of Tsang province in Tibet and his successor Desi Karma Tenchong Wangpo continued to fight Lam Zhabdrung and his tradition. In order to destroy his fame and tradition, they declared several battles against Lam Zhabdrung and assigned astrologers to perform black magic against him. It is said that Lam Zhabdrung also performed black magic against Tibetan rulers and that caused Phuntsho Namgyal to encounter an owl on his way to northern Tibet for a battle. Tibetans believe an owl is a bad omen and one has to conduct protection rituals as soon an owl is seen on the way. Within a month Desi Phuntsho Namgyal contracted leprosy on the battle ground and passed away very shortly. Lam Zhabdrung heard the sudden death of Desi Phuntsho Namgyal and his queen in Tibet. To mark his victory over his enemy, he organized a Tang-ra, which is also an offering ritual at Chari monastery in upper Thimphu.

Additionally, Lam Zhabdrung also faced series of battles from the Lam Kha-nga, the five groups of Lamas who were settled in Bhutan before him. However, with continuous support from the protective deities, Lam Zhabdrung managed to unify Bhutan. Then he dispatched his supreme command throughout Bhutan to follow his authority and tradition. Thereafter, the offering rituals such as Tang-ra, Soel-choe, Kang-so and Choe-sung became part of daily activity in the Drukpa monasteries in western Bhutan and the practice may have reached the community through the lamas and monks when they retired from monasteries.

However, due to farm works and economic constraints, people may have failed to make daily offerings at home like monasteries. People are free only after new harvest and for their convenience, they may have switched from daily routine to once in a year with grand feast and offerings. Thereafter, the offering ritual such as Soel-choe, Tang-ra, Choe-sung and Kang-so may have got the new name Lo-choe in western Bhutan (literally ‘Lo’ for year/yearly and ‘Choe’ for offerings.

Auspicious day for the annual Lo-choe

The annual Lo-choe is performed only on the auspicious day that is finalized by a local astrologer. Right after the Lomba, the New Year festival, the head of family consults a local astrologer and finalizes an auspicious day for the Lo-choe. Then he/she informs all the families and performers the date of the annual Lo-choe.  Mr. Rinchen, the local astrologer of the community predicts the Zakar Zang poi Nyim, which literally means a good day or an auspicious day for Lo-choe. There are numerous elements that need to be taken into consideration in order to declare it a good day. It is very rare for all the good elements to occur on same day. However, the astrologer advises people to conduct Lo-choe on one of the following days: eighth, tenth, fifteenth of the waxing moon, and the twenty-fifth and thirtieth of the waning moon of the month which are generally considered more auspicious than other days. Guru Padmasambhava, the Indian Tantric saint stated that these days are auspicious days since past Buddhas were born on these days and some had held important religious activities for good cause and merit. Thus whoever performs religious activities on these days would bring more merit compared to other normal days.

Host and Contributions

The head of the family, either the father or the mother, or whoever is taking care of the Pha-chim or Ma-chim, the main household of the parents,  hosts the annual Lo-choe. All the family members of the household including extended family contribute both cash and required resources for the annual Lo-choe. The family members who are living in the village contribute local products such as wheat flour for ritual cake, dairy products, vegetables, beverages and local made items for the offerings while the family members who are living in cities and other places contribute cash and offering items such as fresh fruits, vegetables, groceries, meat, variety of drinks and beverages, doma and pani (areca nuts and betel leaves) that are not available in the village.

There is no hard and fast written policy and regulation in place for collections and job delegation for the annual Lo-choe. Through their mutual understanding, all the family members extend voluntary services and required resources. They do not feel an obligation rather they feel the moral responsibility and an opportunity for showing respect for their parents, protective deities and local spirits. In addition to cash contribution, both household family and extended relatives extend physical service for cleaning the house, utensils and surroundings besides cooking, cutting vegetables, serving and dish washing on the day of Lo-choe.


Lo-choe Preparation

Lo-choe is a two day ritual. The first day is reserved for preparing the altar, ritual cakes and offering items. Elders believe that the altar room is the dwelling place of gods, goddesses, and the protective deities. On the first day, the host cleans the house, utensils and surroundings while performers clean the altar room which they sprinkle with water of saffron, sandal wood and other fragrant perfumes to maintain cleanliness. Then they prepare the ritual cakes and offering items and get everything ready for the second day.

 Preparation of Ritual Cakes

Ritual cakes are prepared out of wheat, rice or barley flour. Ritual cakes represent protective deities, gods, goddesses, and spirits. All the gods and deities are not similar in nature and appearances and therefore in order to mark differences, the ritual cakes are prepared mainly into two shapes, triangular and circular. The ritual cakes which are prepared into triangular shape represent the wrathful deities which bear red appearances. Red colour mixed with butter is applied over the cakes. The cylindrical shape of the ritual cake represents the peaceful deities and white colour mixed with butter applied over the ritual cakes symbolizes peaceful appearance.

All the rituals cakes are decorated with different flower patters made out of butter that symbolize attractive costumes and the precious ornaments of the deities. The total number of the ritual cakes is determined according to the number of protective deities who the household worships and the number of local deities and spirits of the community.

 Preparation of Offering Items

The ritual text does not restrict the offering items. It is recommended to offer through visualization of all the materials available in the human world including lakes, mountains, trees, medicinal hubs, gardens, flowers, pleasant sound, and forest groves along with daily use commodities, fruits and cereals. It also mentions the materials for ritual cakes and offerings should be very clean, pure and it should not be stolen items or things obtained through misconduct.

The liturgical scriptures suggest two types of offerings- external offerings and internal offerings. The external offering includes all the products and commodities such as flowers, water, ritual cake, fragrant incense and butter lamps which represent five limbs of the human body and the five limbs stand for the five organs that are nose, eyes, mind, tongue and ear. People offer beautiful flowers for the head; fragrant incenses for the nose; butter lamps for the eyes; clean water for the mind; delicious cake for the tongue; offer pleasant sounds for ears. These are offered to peaceful deities like Tsheringma, Youdonma, Namseyma and Remati, who are sister-goddesses of long life, Dolma (green Tara), and Kubera, the god of wealth.

The internal offerings refer to organs of animals such as brain, heart, kidney, stomach, blood, ear, nose, mouth, head, intestines, and skin. The texts also suggest five different types of meat that include elephant, horse, human, dog and lion. These items are recommended to offer only to wrathful deities like Gonpo Maning, Jarokdongchen,  Yeshe Gonpo (Mahakala), Genyen Jagpa Melen, Chungdu and Palden Lhamo whose appearance are fierce and wrathful.

The liturgical scriptures do not mention a requirement of fresh blood and meat but recommend meat and blood of dead animal. It is possible that due to scarcity of those prescribed animals in Tibet, people might have used pig, bull and yak, all of which were available in the region. The texts also prescribes distinct offerings for individual protective deities. For Dud Soel Lhamo and Palden Lhamo, the female protective deities, it recommends to offer varieties of flowers, ritual cakes, pleasant sounds and music, different types of meats and blood, all internal organs, different alcoholic beverages, five different holy waters, seven precious objects and all kinds of products available in the human world.

For the Gaynyen Jagpa Melen, the protective deity of Thimphu region, it is recommended to offer the following items such as piles of triangular shaped ritual cakes, both dry and fresh meats and blood, wine in lieu of holy water. In addition, the flesh of enemies, blood, internal organs, kidney, stomach, intestines, ear, nose, eyes, mouth and tongue along with daily use commodities should ideally be offered. For Radrakpa, the protective deity of Paro region and Ap Chungdu, the protective deity of Haa region, it is suggested to offer the flesh and blood of enemies along with bone, fat, leg, fluid of nervous and tendons, kidney, intestines, tooth, hand nail, body hair, ritual cakes, head and horn of yak, and all the available commodities.

Most of the lay practitioners who are the performers in the community possess vivid knowledge and skills in preparing ritual cakes and offerings since most of them are retired from the monasteries. Due to high altitude, most of the villages do not grow a variety of crops and fruits like in warm regions. Mr. Pem Thsering from Yangthang village shares that when he was young, he observed his parents offering only cooked rice and dry fruits that were collected from Paro and nearby regions along with few Tshog-zey, local food items. Local offerings are prepared out of buckwheat, rice and wheat flour. He says that today due to their economic prosperity, people manage to offer all kind of fruits, cereals, variety of meats, dry fish, beverages, dairy products, betel leaves and areca nuts, both local and imported products. All these offering items are offered to the well-known protective deities of the Drukpa tradition and other local deities of Haa region.

Lo-choe Programme of the Second day

The second day programme is a full day performance which begins early in the morning at 5am and ends by around 6pm. The full day ritual is presided over by Tshongop, a ritual master accompanied with eight assistant performers. It begins early in the morning with purification and appeasement ritual (Lhabsang and Soek-kha).  Lhabsang is performed to purify polluted areas and to make sure they are clean for local deities whereas Soelkha is performed to appease Dharma protectors and local deities. The performers recite the offering ritual texts of different protective deities with musical instruments such as cymbals, drum, trumps, conch and oboes.

This is followed by a ritual of invitation (Chen-dren) that is performed with musical instrument to welcome all the protective deities at the performing ground followed by the offering ritual (Chod-pa) which describes all the offering items placed on the altar and entice all the local deities to accept their offerings.

Then the compliment ritual (Toe-pa) is performed by describing the local deities’ knowledge, strength, characteristics, merits and quality. Then it is followed by the restoration ritual (Kangwa) that is performed to beg forgiveness for one’s misdeed committed through body, speech and mind, and to request local deities to forgive all the misdeeds and express satisfaction with the offerings that are placed before them. After that performers recite verses of offering by repeating them a minimum hundred times before offerings are distributed to gatherings that include visitors, worshippers, guests, relatives and neighbors.

After that a ritual of entrust (Nyertey) is performed to seek refuge and further protection for the coming year followed by a blessing ritual of wealth and long life (Chakhu and Yangkhu). This ritual is performed to call especially the female deities Tsheringma, Namseyma, Youdonma, and the male deity Kubera to bless the family with wealth, long life and wisdom. Finally, an auspicious and dedication ritual (Tashi Moen-lam) is performed to share their merits with other sentient beings and to wish more peace and harmony in the coming year for family and community.

Significance of the Lo-choe

Lo-choe, the annual household ritual is connected to the local deities whom people worship daily for peace and prosperity. People believe that the local deities live in the human world and share the same habitat as people. They are very much associated with their daily affairs and are the main protectors of the family and community against natural calamities and other misfortunes. People completely rely upon local deities for their peace and prosperity, and they worship the local deities with offerings and prayers.

The Lo-choe is not only a special space for the local deities, it is also a place for people to build relationships and connections with them. Moreover, it brings all the family, relatives and neighbors together once a year to renew their strong relationship among immediate and extended families. It also provides space for the families, guest and visitors to experience joy, humor and happiness.

People of Haa claim Lo-choe is their unique identity passed from generation to generation as a part of their culture and social life. In order to mark the event, they host a small white flag right after the ceremony on top of the roof and it is renewed every year after Lo-choe. We understand from the flag whether a household has performed Lo-choe or if it is yet to be performed. The household also takes pride by serving a grand feast during Lo-choe to all visitors and neighbors with meat dishes. The annual offering ritual is observed throughout Bhutan, but not as grand as in Haa and the rest of western Bhutan.


Lo-choe not only marks the symbol of appreciation and gratitude to local deities and protectors. It is also a day to make long life prayers for family and community and offer prayers to bring peace and harmony in the coming year, bless all the fieds with fertility and bumper harvest, fill up the stores with cereals, ensure timely rain fall, fulfill all the wishes, repel all the evil and sickness, misfortunes and natural calamities for the coming year. People believe that conducting Lo-choe on time will be rewarded by averting ailments, rivalry, contempt, bad luck and epidemics, but the annual grand offerings to the local deities is also part of merit making to gain good karma.



Lo-choe, the annual household offering ritual which is widely observed in western Bhutan since at least the seventeenth century, and is still celebrated every year with a grand feast and offerings on one of the auspicious days of the eleventh month of the Bhutanese lunar calendar. It is a composite practice of the Bon tradition, the indigenous religion of Tibet and tantric practice of Mahayana Buddhism. The Bon practices such as animal sacrifices and making offerings to the local deities for peace and prosperity was very much present before the advent of Buddhism in Bhutan.

Among the Drukpa Kagyu lamas, Lam Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal unified Bhutan in the seventeenth century CE, and established his new supreme authority. He faced a series of conflicts with Tibet as well as with the five groups of Tibetan lamas who settled in Bhutan before him. However, he defeated all his rivals with help of the protective deities Yeshe Gonpo (Mahakala), Laygon Jarodongchen, and Genyen Jagpa Melen etc. In order to celebrate his victory over his rivals and to thank the protective deities, he conducted the offering rituals such as Kangso, Tang-ra, Choe-sung and Soel-chod in the Drukpa Kagyu monasteries of Bhutan. Thereafter, these offering rituals became very prominent rituals and part of daily routine in the Drukpa monasteries which later reached the communities and blended with pre-existing rituals.

The annual Lo-choe combine many features of several rites of Bon tradition and tantric practice of the Mahayana Buddhism of Tibet such as rites for reconciliation, for retrieving the loss of equilibrium, for healing disturbance, for repairing, pacifying and appeasing all existences. People of western Bhutan consider Lo-choe as a part of their culture and inherited tradition that should be compulsory performed once in a year by every household for the welfare of family and community. All the family, relatives and siblings make cash and kind contributions for the annual Lo-choe. It is also a special occasion for all of them to make prayers and grand offerings to the protective deities of the Drukpa Kagyu tradition and local deities of the region that would bring more peace and prosperity for the family and community for the coming year.



Ngawang Jamtsho, Lecturer

Paro College of Education, Royal University of Bhutan


Local Informants (Name, age, village)

Pema Tshering, age 79, Yangthang   (interview 14/10/2021)

Ajo (retired Paw) age 79, Talung community (interview 15/10/2021)

Lam Sangay, age 96, Ingo village, Kartsho (interview 5/11/2021)



གཞུང་གྲྭ་ཚང་། (༢༠༡༡) དཔལ་ལྡན་འབྲུག་པའི་བསྟན་སྲུང་ཡོངས་རྫོགས། འབྲུག།  རྒྱལ་ཡོངས་དཔེ་མཛོད་ཁང་།

བསྟན་འཛིན་ཆོས་རྒྱལ། (༢༠༠༣) ལྷོ་འབྲུག་ཆོས་འབྱུང་འཛམ་མགོན་སྨོན་མཐའི་ཕྲེང་བ། ཨེ་ཀེམ་ཀྲི། ཐིམ་ཕུག

སྐལ་བཟང་རྡོ་རྗེ། (༢༠༠༧) ཨུ་རྒྱན་གཉིས་པ་གུ་རུ་རིན་པོ་ཆེའི་འཁྲུངས་སྐར་དུས་ཆེན་སྤྲེལ་ཟླའི་ཚོགས་བསྐོར་གྱི་ཕན་ཡོན་

སྐལ་ལྡན་ཐར་པའི་ལམ་བཟང་། རིག་གཞུང་མཐོ་རིམ་སློབ་གྲྭ། སྟག་རྩེ། ཀྲོང་གསར།

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