Are you ready for Guthuk, the special Thukpa that we Tibetans eat on the 29th day of the 12th month of the Tibetan Lunar calendar? This year it falls on February 20th.
Eating Guthuk on this particular night is very important as the tradition that accompanies it signifies our safe passage into the New Year. That we cleanse ourselves and our living spaces of all the obstacles and negativities of the past year, is an important part of observing that tradition.
The Tibetan word Guthuk constitutes two words, gu (Tibetan: nine) and thuk (Tibetan: pasta in soup) and their combination literally translates to thukpa of the ninth or nine. In Tibetan custom, the general belief that all odd numbers are auspicious, dates back to the pre-Buddhist era. The number 9, in particular, is associated with good luck. Therefore, when preparing and while savoring Guthuk you must remember that no less than nine ingredients are added to this dish. Although, there are several variations on what comprises these nine ingredients, here is my list:
1.Meat 2.Flour 3.Crushed barley 4.Radish 5.Dry or fresh peas 6.A dash of dry fenugreek leaves (shopsi) 7.Salt 8.Pepper 9.A dash of coarse dry Tibetan cheese flakes.
Except for some of these extra ingredients, Guthuk is prepared in the same way as Bakthuk, the Thukpa that is prepared and eaten on Ganden Ngamchoe, the death anniversary of Je-Tsongapa. As such, Bakthuk is always associated with mourning and it is not to be confused with Gutsi-Rithuk. The difference lies in the shape of the dough. Bakthuk is a small marble sized dough squeezed between your thumb, forefinger, and middle finger, whereas Gutsi-Rithuk is shell shaped.
The most outstanding characteristic of Guthuk and perhaps a unique practice that adds a flavor of playful fun to this occasion is the custom of adding dough-balls to the dish. One might think of them as a rendition of the modern day fortune cookie. These large dough balls that clearly stand out amongst the rest contains a small rolled up piece of paper at their center and on these pieces of paper are written certain words that stand as metaphors for certain human characteristic, both positive and negative. In most circumstances, having Guthuk is a family affair and as each family member sits around the steaming pot, a dough-ball is served along with the Guthuk. Each dough-ball revelation or “divination” (for the sake of sounding mystical) is said to represent the innate disposition of the person. Some of my friends in the West humorously refer to these dough-balls as “The Oracle Dough”. Of course we all take these predictions with great deal of fun and laughter, but if you really believe you possess that character, especially when it is negative, then it is an opportunity for you to reflect and leave that trait behind with the old year!
Following are the list of what is usually put in the “Oracle Dough” and their meanings (but one can get creative with this list):
Wool = gentle person
Charcoal = cold hearted person
Porcelain= person who avoids work
Paper= foolish person
Hot chilly= quick temper, sharp tongue
Pea= untrustworthy person
Salt= lazy person
Thorn= person who does not get along with other people
Inward woven thread= person who put his family welfare above others
Outward woven thread=person who does not put family welfare first
Stone= stingy person
Dama-ru (hand-drum)=person with double face
Glass- delicate person
Sun and moon= glory and fame
Mother carrying child= person carrying Karma from previous life
Square mat= easy going person
Lama Konchok (Tsok shape)= honest person
According to the custom associated with this day, each person must eat 9 servings of the Guthuk. This is possible only if you have a large appetite or if you take small servings. At the end of the 9th bowl, one should not finish it completely but rather leave a little leftover in the bowl. Everyone’s leftover is then emptied into a broken or a cracked container. Following this, each person is handed a piece of dough the size of a ping-pong ball called Pagchi, which literally means a dough-cleanser. The Pagchi is then squeezed in either one of your hands, while making sure that your fingers are imprinted on it. These imprints represent your whole body. The Pagchi, while still squeezed, is then skimmed over different parts of the body, particularly touching areas where you have pain or other discomforts due to sickness. It is believed that doing this takes away your pain and ailments and absorbs them into the Pagchi. When this is completed, the Pagchi, is thrown into the broken or cracked container. At the same time, you can throw a strand of your hair, a thread from your clothes etc., into this container. Finally, a small human effigy made out of dough called Lue (signifying an evil entity) is placed in the center of this container.
What comes next is the most dramatic part of Guthuk night. One member of the family carrying a lighted torch goes from room to room and around each nook and corner shouting “Dhonsho Ma” or “Come out!”, demanding that the spirits of the old year dwelling in these spaces to leave. He is followed by a person with a broom who begins to sweep the rooms the torchbearer just visited and empties the dusts into the container along with the Lue, leftover Guthuk, and the Pagchi. In this way, our body and spirit, and our living space are cleansed of the negativities of the old year and the Lue is taken out to a three-way intersection and left there. As the Lue leaves the house, firecrackers are set off after it and we demand it to take away with it, all the obstacles and negativities of the twelve months of the year and one hundred and thirty days of the year. In Tibetan it is said as follows:
Lo chig dawa chung-nyi
Gewang bachey thamchey dakpa gyu chi
Once this ritual is complete, no visitors should enter your house this night, nor should ladies wash their hair.
I know customs differ from region to region and even from household to household, if
you have something new to add, I’d love to learn, please let me know.
Enjoy Guthuk Night!
Jampa Yangchen courtesy https://www.facebook.com/kalimpong