The following account of Yak Lekpé Lhadar was told by by Damchoe from Neglug village in Laya in January 2014.
The folk song, Yak Lekpé Lhadar (གཡག་ལེགས་པའི་ལྷ་དར་), is a sad story of a yak by that name. The sentimental song reflects how nomads rear their yaks as they do their children. The song mentions how the yak is given a name, looked after affectionately and involved in a deep bond with the nomad but is tragically taken to be slaughtered for meat. The yak called Lekpé Lhadar tells the story of separation between a yak herder and his yak. Lekpé Lhadar, a name which praises the yak, roughly translates as the handsome and magnificent yak. The yak was to taken on orders of a powerful lord to be slaughtered for meat. The song captures the sadness of parting, as described from the perspective of the slaughtered yak.
Lekpé Lhadar is handsome and magnificent yak with long hair hanging down to its hoofs. The patch of white hair on his face makes him stand out, and yak herders consider him a lucky yak. The yak roamed the lush meadows high up in the snow-capped mountains and has a special bond with the herder. He was a free and happy yak until his turn came to be face the butcher in order to satiate the voracious human appetite for yak meat.
According to this story, the song was composed by Ap Chuni Dorji, a yak herder from Soe Jangothang in Soe, Thimphu. The lyric of the song was written in classical language, and those who understood it would have their eyes well up with tears, when the song was sung. The story of the yak is narrated through the song. Many years since the song was first composed and sung, it continues to render many hearts heavy among those who can comprehend the story told by the song.
The song Yak Lekpé Lhadar has been shortened from its original and various singers have focused only on the romantic theme leaving out the many interesting elements of the song. But the actual song ran for more than one hour. The song was a tribute to yak, and as a celebration to a herder’s true friend in the mountain. The Dagala yak herders also pay a great respect to the Yak Lekpé Lhadar. People believe that no one lived in Dagala range initially. There were no tsamdro (རྩ་འབྲོག) pastures and yak. A dud (བདུད) or malevolent spirit did not allow either man or animal to live. As prophesied, the god of yaks sent Yak Lekpé Lhadar from heaven. Yak Lekpé Lhadar started to clear yak trails and grazing land. Trails along which Yak Lekpé Lhadar traveled became path for yaks, and places where it slept became grazing land. So the number of grazing land is equal to number of nights the Yak Lekpé Lhadar halted. It was Yak Lekpé Lhadar who showed herders, the ways of rearing yaks and making cowsheds. The present road from Dagana to Tsimalakha was believed to be made by Yak Lekpé Lhadar. This song is used as a poem that attribute human emotion and teach natural expression of the Buddhist tenets of protection for all forms of life.
This folksong is the most popular among the highland herders. The herders repeatedly sing this folksong, when they had to sacrifice their yaks for the lhasöl (ལྷ་གསོལ) ritual.
The song goes:
How beautiful is Yak Lekpé Lhadar's face!
Yak Lekpé Lhadar- the god-sent calf!
There is no need to describe my place and paths,
If I were to explain my place and paths,
It is on the high snow-capped mountains
And the highland meadow of sershog flower
Where flower buds blossom. There, my home is.
I graze on mountains grass,
And drink fresh water of glacial lakes.
Should I dance my happiness,
I dance along the base of distant meadows.
One by one, the whole herd was slaughtered!
And I, the unfortunate Lhadar
It is I, Lhadar who feel sad.
A heavy command of a powerful lord came,
A man with a sword fastened at his waist
Came to take me, Lhadar.
Lhadar has no choice not to go.
When turn to be slaughtered is set
The turn fell on me, Lhadar.
Crossing Mountains, a highlander came.
And when the highlander came,
The snow-covered peaks above, how high?
And Lhadar's tree of life, how low?
The English translation was done by Dasho Dr. Sonam Kinga, Dorji Penjore and Jigme Drukpa.
Sonam Chophel is a researcher at Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research. Improved by Karma Phuntsho.