Dhepa Dhenpa

Background

Dhepa Dhenpa is one of four operas repertoire  performed solely by the monks of Menru Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet. The others being Jinpa Chenpo, Jigten Wangchuk and Chungpo Dhonyoe and Dhondup. Their style of performance and presentation is referred as Menru Ponsang tradition. 

The Plot

One day, the queen tells the king that she has had a beautiful dream – a dream where the sun and moon have processed into her, a vast rainbow has arched across the sky and a shower of flowers has fallen upon the entire kingdom. The king is happy to hear of this dream as he knows it is auspicious. Exactly nine months and eight days later the queen gives birth to a wonderful child, who from the day of his birth never cries and has a special fondness for monks and scriptures. During his childhood, this remarkable boy demonstrates a great affinity to religious objects and develops an increasingly deep faith in Buddha. Due to these extraordinary qualities and profound devotion, three priests name him ‘Thepa Tenpa’ meaning ‘Unflinching Faith’.

For many years the kingdom enjoys peace and prosperity. However, a couple, who are the embodiment of demons, fall jealous and vow to bring misery to the land. Through their magic powers they turn themselves into wild boars, the husband a black boar and his wife a chequered boar. They plot to kill the king and queen. In order to do this the black boar will destroy the life plant of the king and the chequered boar that of the queen. Without these precious plants, the king and queen will die.

Secretly they enter the royal garden. The prince manages to kill the black boar but ,unfortunately, it has already uprooted the life plant of the queen. Consequently, she dies following a series of illnesses. The Dakinis, or goddesses, appear at her funeral to perform special rites and to take her to their celestial realm. Meanwhile, the young prince orders a search for the chequered boar, which has escaped, but to no avail. All that is found is a beautiful woman. The young prince immediately recognizes that this is in fact the chequered boar and so rejects her attempts to win his favor. Unfortunately, the king is unable to resist the beauty of this woman, falls in love with her-despite warnings from the prince – and marries her. Having gained this important position in the palace, the evil new queen, Ned-Nar, sets out to destroy the prince, her main obstacle.

One day she feigns illness and none of the doctors are able to diagnose the problem. Bangha is very upset as he loves her dearly and asks her to tell him how they may help her. She tells him she needs a medicinal flower called Kushana, from Lanka, the land of demons. She makes the king promise to send the prince to fetch it. The young prince embarks on his journey and after three years and three months reaches the outskirts of Lanka. Here he meets the local deity who is kind and tells him that Kushana is not a flower as he has been told, but in fact the daughter of the ten-headed king of Lanka. He advises the prince to return home as his mission is impossible. However, upon the prince’s insistence that he will persist, the local deity gives him a magic elephant and urges him to depart on the fifteenth day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar. This day is considered auspicious, when even the demons fast.

The prince continues on his way and before long encounters two snakes, one white and one black, viciously fighting each other. He feels great compassion at this sight and separates them, thus saving their lives.

The snake are in fact Nagas, who transform themselves into human form to express their gratitude, each presenting the prince with five pieces of turquoise.

As the prince arrives at the first iron gate of Lanka, he meets a demon guard. The prince offers him a piece of turquoise to put around his neck. This process is repeated until the prince arrives at the seventh

gate. He asks where the king lives. Normally, this would have been a question that no one dare to answer, but when the prince asks, everybody tries to answer him at once. They inform him of the whereabouts of the palace and bid him to enter by the eastern gate.

The prince does as he is advised and finds the ten-headed king. Each head asks the prince a question, to which he replies with great wisdom, as instructed by the local deity. Upon hearing the prince’s answers the king knows that this is a very special person. Suddenly, a massive thunderbolt strikes and destroys the surrounding hills, shaking the palace to it’s very core. The demons are all terrified at this ominous and frightening occurrence. The king immediately kneels before the prince and vows to abandon killing and to follow the teaching of Buddha. He also agrees to give his daughter to the young prince. Thepa Tenpa meets many girls of different colours who are attracted by his charms.

When the news that the prince is taking Kushana reaches the people of Lanka, they are unhappy. In an attempt to prevent her departure, a series of obstacles are put before the prince. However, these potentially fatal trials and tests, such as being sent to a dangerous cemetery, or before the red copper dog, are overcame with the assistance of his princess, who has the vital clues he needs.

Eventually, the prince and princess prepare to leave for Bengal. On the advice of Kushana the prince asks the king to give him the ‘wish fulfilling gem’, which he duly does. On the way to Bengal the prince is offered two lovely maidens, Yang-Shana and Sum-shana, by two Naga kings.

Soon the whole entourage arrives in Bengal. The king is delighted and tells his queen (the chequered boar in disguise) of their arrival. She is most unhappy to receive this news and devises many more seemingly impossible tasks for the prince to perform. However, armed with the ‘wish fulfilling gem’ the prince completes these tasks with ease.

Finally, the demon Queen pretends to recover from her illness and prays that she might be able to repay the kindness of the prince. Kushana realises that this is merely a ploy to seduce the prince, saying to him that since she was brought to Bengal as medicine for the Queen, she should be allowed to do her work. Firstly, she takes the Queen to the King’s court and asks her what race she belongs to. Kushana then says that the angels are not happy and therefore the Queen must bathe in a special pond. Taking the queen to the sacred pond she asks the black Naga’s daughter to summon her relatives from the water. On the obeyance of this command a red ox with one horn suddenly appears from the depths of the pond and pierces through the demon Queen’s body, killing her instantly.

Some time later, when the king has heard the full story of his evil and deceitful Queen, he becomes profoundly disturbed and decides to become a monk under the Lama Nya-nyen Delwa. Prince Thepa Tenpa takes all three girls as his wives and each bears him a son. He lives for one hundred and twenty seven years and rules his kingdom happily, justly and peacefully.