GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (59)

– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

During our short visit to Chagri I had the opportunity to share with the local “guelões” – to their delight, I must say – the extraordinary adventure of Estevão Cacela and João Cabral. And they also gave me precious data about the life and work of their spiritual and temporal leader, the host of the Portuguese fathers. They point out, for example, the date of his birth, 1594, further informing that Shabdrung at the age of 23, “in the Year of the Fire Dragon,” joined the hosts of the lama Hoptshopa of Gyon and with them he traveled to Bhutan. At the age of 27, “the Year of the Iron Monkey,” after completing the silver funeral pyramid containing the relics of his father, he established his own monastic body “which initially had thirty monks.”

That would be the beginning of the Palden Drukpa order in the country. As a curiosity, one must remember that the interior of the mentioned pyramid houses the statue of Tenpai Nyima manufactured by Shabdrung himself. Legend has it that this statue at a certain point had miraculously spoken to the monk-king.

Nearby, in the Mahakala chapel, the hands and heart of Gula, commander of the Tibetan army, are carefully guarded, as are the hearts of his men offered to Shabdrung still fresh in the aftermath of a victorious battle. To celebrate the happy occasion Shabdrung would introduce the mask dance of Mahakala, still present today in many festivities. Also several belongings of the monarch are kept in the monastery and I am informed by the monks that in the course of his spiritual retreat Shabdrung had been fed only with “essence juice of flowers.” It was at the Monastery of Chagri that Estevão Cacela wrote the Relação that he would send to his superiors in Rome, and he came to the conclusion (unlike António de Andrade, founder of the mission in Western Tibet) that he was before people of another religion. His testimony could not be more clear: “… they say first that they were never Christians nor do they find in their books that their ancestors knew Christ our Lord and had his law.” And it was not that those people were Gentile, for “they laugh and mock the things typical of the Gentiles such worshiping animals, and abhor cattle-killing in pagodas and other ceremonies of the Gentiles.” In fact, everything suggests that Estevão Cacela and João Cabral were aware that they were among worshipers of a cult that until then was unknown to them.