Note: This vampire subjugation was filmed over two days in January 2010 in Kag (the Tibetan name for Kagbeni), Mustang, Nepal. The videos accompanying this ritual performance are available on the Youtube channel Bon Rituals, "To Subjugate a Vampire" parts 1-6.
Description of the ritual performance
Lama Tshultrim and three assistants – Yungdrung Phuntshog, Bhara Norbu and Kemi Tshewang – left Lubrak in the early afternoon and arrived in Kag at 16.45.
Lama Tshultrim had brought with him a bundle of barberry sticks, each about 30 cm in length. He explained that these were required for making certain ritual items, and there was no source of barberry in Kag.
The hostess, Chodzom, was in the kitchen of the old family house, which is located at the entrance to the village directly opposite the Paradise Hotel, which is also owned by the family. She answered Tshultrim’s questions about the nature of the vampire that had killed her husband. They concurred that the type of vampire was a dus sri, a “time vampire”, so called because it had caused the death of a number of young or middle-aged men at intervals of a few years. All the men were related.
Lama Tshultrim and his assistants began making tormas at 17.30 in the shrine room (mchod khang), the room in which the ritual was to be performed. Tshultrim and Norbu proceeded to make the “nine wooden firebrands” (shing ’gal ba dgu) from the barberry wood, while Yungdrung Phuntshog concentrated on making the tormas. The explanation Tshultrim gave concerning the function of the firebrands was not clear, but the term features in most Bonpo and Buddhist texts relating to the vampire-subjugation ritual without any proper explanation. According to John Bellezza (Zhang zhung) the term denotes the nine types of wood to be used in cremations, but he does not appear to cite a particular source for this assertion.1 Firebrands incidentally play an important part in exorcistic rituals among the Gurungs of Nepal.2
The special importance of the nine firebrands for the vampire subjugation ritual is the subject of a particularly interesting text contained in the Mu cho’i khrom ’dur collection (corresponding to vol. 6 of the bKa’ rten). This short text, entitled Me ’gal sri bsad recounts a myth that relates the origin not just of these firebrands but of fire tout court, and explains that the firebrands are an essential weapon for the destruction of vampires.
The tormas that were made included two yidams – sTag la me ’bar and Zhi ba – and four protectors (srung ma) in the “male row” (pho rgyud) and “female row” respectively. The eight protectors were supplemented by a torma representing sKya rengs skrags med, the territorial divinity of Lubrak, usually known as Yul za (yul rtsa, yul sa).3 The Yulza torma features not only in rituals performed in Lubrak, but in rituals that the priests of Lubrak perform for patrons in neighbouring villages, or Kathmandu, or indeed anywhere in the world.
The central component of the torma (which is made of tsampa dough) has a triangular base and three inclined faces that rise into an ogive cylinder near the apex. Each of the faces is indented with crossed parallel lines or three parallel cuts, optional designs that are know as btsan lam (btsan road) and signifying that, in addition to being a srin po, Yulza belongs to this general category of btsan. Pressed to each of the three sides are two smaller, similarly-shaped components, each—like the main component—topped by a thin band of dough wrapped around the apex, representing a turban (thod bcings) and required for most categories of protectors. These small images represent the entourage of the main figure. Also disposed around the central effigy are a number of dough imprints (zan par) made from a wooden printing block (par shing). These include a yak, a sheep and goat, which are provided because “we must include the things he used to receive in the past”.
This assertion is made by Lama Tshultrim of Lubrak in a short video film that includes sequences of the construction of the torma.The lama added that, according to his father, Yulza used once to “receive both white and red offerings”. These zan par are followed by two others. One of “a bird and a monkey facing each other” (bya spre kha sbyor) and the other of “a dog and a pig facing each other” (khyi phag kha sbyor).
In a propitiatory text presented below we are told that dogs and pigs skulk around the edges of the dire castle where Kyareng Trakme lives; but there is no mention of birds and monkeys. The dough imprints are followed by three chang bu, items made by grasping (’chang) a cylinder of dough in one’s fist, pressing the head of it down with the thumb and squeezing the protruding end with the free hand in order to ensure five digital imprints, each representing the offering of a sense-object to the denizens of the lower realms. This too can be seen in the video Kyareng, with the accompanying remark that the chang bu for Yulza should be made with the right hand, whereas in the case of offerings to the serpent spirits it should be done with the left. An optional addition is a number of theb kyu (lumps of dough pinched between finger and thumb) disposed along the chang bu as a supplementary food offering. The torma is daubed with red-dyed butter and embellished with red, white and black butter “flowers” (me tog). The design of these flowers varies from one maker to another. The text that is read for the propitiation of Yulza is entitled bsTan bsrungs gzhi bdag gis mdos bzhugs so, “a mdos ceremony for the lords of place who protect the doctrine”.
Unlike the ritual for the "vampire of the little ones"—pictured here from a ritual observed in 1982 (left)—a dog's skull is not required.
Among the various tormas, Yungdrung Phuntshog made a triangular one with points along each edge. This is called dBal bshos rtse dgu, the “nine-pointed sharp torma”. The torma represents the yidam sTag la me ’bar, who, in the myth of the encounter between gShen rab mi bo and the original vampire, is invoked as a witness to their covenant.
Before leaving Lubrak, Lama Tshultrim had prepared a print of a lingka and now wrote around its perimeter the mantras appropriate to the time vampire.4
Kemi brought in the triangular clay pit of black clay that had just been made.
Lama Tshultrim put into it three of the dough-imprint (zan par) lingkas that had been made the previous day and had been placed on the altar. Yungdrung Phuntshog gave him a lump of dough from which he modelled a lingka with a cavity in its belly.
He inserted a wool wick into it. Norbu then poured red-dyed butter into it.
Tshultrim explained that this was a “substitute for blood” (khrag gi tshab).
YdP filled a basket dokhur with black sand from the river and brought it into the shrine room. He flattened the sand inside using a cymbal, and then drew a triangle on it with an antelope horn sack-opener.
A neighbour came with a couple of yak horns. Tshultrim selected one, and told the man to remove the interior bone.
On the black sand they made – with difficulty, eventually Kemi did it – a 6-pointed star of superimposed triangles; sketched with an arrow, marked with flour along the lines. In the centre Kemi wrote, with flour, the syllables rnri dza. The basket it was turned towards Tshultrim.
Nine crosses in flour were drawn around the perimeter. The triangular pit was then place on the sand, with the head away from Tshultrim.
Yungdrung Phuntshog found some black goathair sacking and cut an oblong from it – this was to be used for tying up the horn later in the ritual.
The nine firebrands were disposed around the rim of the sand, on the flour crosses. Stones from a landslide (’babs rdo) were brought in a nosebag. Three stones were selected and placed on the sand. Then three arrows were brought in and arranged teepee-fashion above the basket.
Then Tshultrim placed the lingga print in the basket, facing him.
The old drum was removed and a new one – still with polythene wrapping on the shaft – was hung to his right. The end of the shaft was inserted in a basket of barley for stability.
Yungdrung Phuntshog put some calendula from one of the little leather pouches into a plastic coke bottle wrapped in a khata and placed it on the altar: this was a “substitute for a vase” (bum pa'i tshab). A fire of juniper leaves was lit next to Tshultrim.
Tshultrim consulted a geomantic work from which it was determined in which direction the person would have to face when the hole was being dug in the street to bury the vampire.
This refers to the position in which the divinity of the earth, Toche Nakpo (lTo 'phyes nag po), was sleeping. She sleeps in a circle, head to tail, and this position rotates seasonally.
The vampire in question, a "time vampire", has to be buried at a three-cross-ways. The location chosen by Tshultrim was in the main street in front of the house, since the path from the house was considered to constitute a trail.
After completing the reading of the main text (gzhung) of the yidams and the protectors, Tshultrim then read the main text (gzhung) of the vampire subjugation ritual (sri mnan). The text is entitled sTon pa gshen rab kyi gsung pa'i sri mnan par can, "The special vampire-subjugation ritual as taught by Shenrab Miwo".
When this part of the reading was over, Tshultrim announced that we would now perform the “summoning” ritual (‘gug las) to call the vampire up into the room.
The music became aggressive, with much clashing of cymbals. Tshultrim blew the thighbone trumpet and instructed us to whistle loudly.
5.15 Dondrub and a companion started digging up the road. He had to face west, and levered up one of the stones and began to dig with an antelope horn. Such a horn must always be used when any digging activity, such as house-building, is initiated.
Then Dondrub did a brief dance – sa ’dul style – in the room, holding in his left hand a saucer with one of the three dough imprinted lingka. He cut it in half. He then danced with the phurba, stabbing the lingka, then placed half on the altar and returned the plate to Tshultrim.
The assistants then put the paper lingka on a wooden board. The son-in-law of the house - Magpa - had got dressed in a thick chuba (gos) and put on a fancy hat that happened to be hanging in the shrine room. Lama Tshultrim instructed him to shoot three arrows into the print, telling him to do so with real aggression. He then proceeded to read a short, two-folio text entitled simply bsGral ba shog chung, “A little booklet for the ritual killing.” Magpa shot the lingka with an arrow, which penetrated the first time, but the other two didn't stick in the board. He shot again twice, and one stayed in. Then he hit it with the back of a mattock, representing a hammer.
The arrows were removed and inserted in the rope around the weapon-pillar. Then the lingka and everything else from the basket – as much as possible, including the nine firebrands – were stuffed into the horn.
The end of the horn was wrapped in black goathair sacking and a length of rope wound around it. The end of the horn was first "closed" by placing on top of it a small print of a crossed vajra. This rope had been spun earlier by Yungdrung Phuntshog from white wool and from black wool, and the two wound together into a single strand.
Sealing wax was applied to several points. Tshultrim regretted the absence of a seal, but improvised by using a piece of berberis wood with a cross cut into the end. the sequence was: Magpa, Dondrub, the Larmo servant, Chonyi Wangmo, Yungdrung Phuntshog and finally Tshultrim. Men held the seal in the right hand and women in the left. Tshultrim first applied sealing wax to the tip of the horn, and then to the base.
Dondrup then pulled the horn by the rope in each of the four directions, and after each tug stepped on it with his right foot. He then beat it on the ground, base down.
The basket was brought down, and the horn placed on it.
Ts had put another crossed-vajra print on his plate of stones. All the tormas (not the yidams though – only the lower rank and Yulza) were put on a plate.
They stood facing the altar for a while and then exited: 1. Dondrub with the basket 2. Magpa with a knife 3. YdP with drum 4. Tshultrim throwing stones vigorously. The basket was set next to the stone, and Dondrub, YdP and Tshultrim proceeded to do anticlockwise dance around it.
Then they stood facing the house and read the invocation of Yulza (see above). Kemi filmed this. One of the texts they took out was rGyas btab.
After a bit Ts took the horn and dropped it into the hole. Immediately after Magpa flung the basket in, so that its contents completely covered the horn.
They (mainly Magpa) stamped it down and beat it with the end of the prised-up stone.
The stone was then flung down flat and a three-tiered tho placed on top of it.
Thorns – previously gathered – were placed on top of it, and on top of the thorns a stook of wheatstraw. A fire was lit, and bombs were put in the fire. After the fire had died down they danced around it again and then danced back into the house.
Dondrup, Magpa and CW lined up in front of the altar. They all did lHa rgyal lo, then each in turn did three prostrations, and then sat down for the recitation of a concluding prayer of blessing (bkra shis).
The whole thing finished at 8.40.
The following day we had a very short interview, on camera, with Chodzom about the reason for her requesting the ceremony. She gave the identities of the various young men who had died in the pha tshan (sic), indicating the activity of a dus sri. She said that the identity of the agent had been determined by divination. Most of the interview, however, was a diatribe against her late husband, a violent alcoholic.
Palsang later told me that Chonyi Wangmo was his third wife. There were four brothers, and they had two grong pas, one in Tiri and one in Kag. The eldest one was married to Palsang's second-eldest oldest sister. He was also a violent alcoholic, and when Palsang would go and stay with her he told the sister that he wanted to take Palsang to his bed – this when she was only around 10 years old or so. He died (I think) while carrying their son (?) on his back, askew because he was drunk, and they both died in a fall. Details not quite clear. The second son was a monk and a nice man. The third – also a bit deranged, I think. Palsang says it goes in the family, and that this is why Ts's wife, Chödro, their sister, is also a bit nuts.
CA's husband died at the same time as Palsang's mother, when Kemi and I were in Tshug in spring 2008. Scirrhosis.
- 1. Bellezza, J.V. 2008. Zhang Zhung: Foundations of Civilization in Tibet. Vienna: Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.
- 2. Pignède, Les Gurungs, p. 324.
- 3. For a study of sKya rengs skrags med in literature and iconography, see Ramble 2018a.
- 4. For a description of the process and of the text that was later read for the lingka, see: Ramble 2021. The volvelle and the lingga: the use of two manuscript ritual devices in a Tibetan exorcism. In J. Quenzer (ed.) Exploring Written Artefacts. Studies in Manuscript Cultures 25. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1025–42.