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Mutig Choegho – The Pearl Cloak

November 9, 2013 Destination Global, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59“Go to Paro Tshongdu and buy the first box of Ja Baka (brick tea) that you come across.”

The TsamDrak Goenpa lam, Ngawang Drakp (1697-707) instructed his monk attendant.

“Pay whatever the trader wants and do not negotiate.” According to the neyig or the pilgrim’s guide of the monastery.

The written guidebook contains details of the history of the monastery’s nangten or sacred treasure – a 17th century checkered pattern cloak known as Mutig  Choegho.

As the story goes, the monk follows his master’s instruction and when he reaches Paro bazaar, he buys the first box of tea that he came across without negotiating.

According to the neyig on the way back to the monastery, the monk stops in Damcahu- a small village to resume the journey early next morning.

As he is in the proximity of the monastery, he encounters something totally unexpected. National Textile Museum

He is greeted by the sound of the jaling  (Religious instrument) and is surprised to see his friends standing on top of the roof dressed in their best regalia and blowing the long horns to welcome him. In a state of disbelief he starts to wonder why he is deserving of the Serdeng or the golden welcome.

The novice monk starts to wonder if his master had gone insane. Upon meeting, the master takes the wooden box from the monk attendant and opens it. He removes the first layer of tea bricks and unfurls the cloak that lay underneath. Looking at the monk, he explains, “I know you were thinking that I had gone mad. But the grand reception is not for you or the box of tea but it is for the cloak.”

The Cloak 

The cloak is piece of art and it is unique and probably only of its kind.

Singye Dorji, the Director of the National Textile Museum who supervised the conservation of it said that after studying the embroidery on the cloak that is definitely Chinese.

Although the exact size of the cloak is yet to be measured, the rectangular cloak is at least few meters in breadth and length.

The material used is silk. Three sides of the cloak are bordered by lentsa pattern and the patches in it have the eight auspicious Buddhist signs embroidered on them in yellow.

The name Mutig choegho comes from the fact that Mutig or pearl were stitched on the pattern. Pommaret Francoise, a historian cites another example. She said that in Tradruk monastery in Central Tibet, there is a famous Tara pearl thankga.

Singye Dorji who saw similar cloaks on display in Singapore said that the pearl cloak in the country is more intricate. When asked to put a value to it, he replies, “it is inestimable.”

The Second Story 

The Tsamdrap’s story of the origin of the cloak is different from the one written in the neyig of their monastery. The elders believe it to be that of Guru Rimpoche and hence consider it very sacred.

Today, the pearls are no more there. According to the Tsamdraps, Paro Penlop Tshering Penjor removed it in the first half of the 20th century. But the descendants of the Penlop contest it.

But what has been established is that the Paro Penlop did take the cloak to Paro.

Jojo Wangdi (83) remembers seeing the cloak in Paro.  He said that the Paro Penlop made one of his friends Gelong Dawalu Thendri wear it during the throm sha- the grand procession held on the morning of the day of the annual Paro tsechu or festival.

Fields of Merit 

Buddhist monks have always worn cloaks with patterns that represent rice fields.

The story of it is told beautifully in the Old Path White Clouds. 

According to the book, one day while Buddha was standing in the Vulture Peak in India, he is said to have looked out over the fields of rice paddies.

He turned to Ananda and said, “How beautiful are the golden patches of rice that stretch to the horizon! Wouldn’t it be nice to sew our robes in the same checkered pattern?”

Ananda replied, “Lord, it is a wonderful idea. Sewing bhikhu’s robes in the same pattern as rice fields would be lovely. You have said that a bhikhu who practices the Way is like a fertile field in which seeds of virtue and merit have been sown to benefit both the present and future generations. When one makes offerings to such a bhikhu or studies and practices with him, it is like sowing seeds of virtue and merit.”

Then Ananda went and spread the word to the community of monks to sew future robes in the pattern of rice fields,  “We can call our robes ‘fields of merit.” The Buddha smiled his approval.

Conclusion 

The story of how a Chinese pearl cloak with Buddhist motifs came to be the nangten of TsamDrak monastery sounds like a myth. But the unusual textile is certainly a national treasure. While the pearls in it have disappeared, the premier art itself has been well conserved and now well looked after.  Believed to be sacred, it is displayed for the public once a year during the fourth day of the six-month of the Bhutanese calendar.

Written by : Tshering Tashi

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