Pin Valley’s Unique Sunchok Ceremony | Story of Todnam, Spiti | Episode #6

It is autumn in Pin Valley The pea harvest is complete. And the earnings for the year are collected. Fuel in the form of dry dung And fodder in the form of dried grass is then collected from the mountains And stocked up for surviving the upcoming winter. Most of the major chores for the year are completed By the end of September. It is then time to relax a bit. Before the onset of winter. It is time for weddings and pujas. Time for Sunchok. Sunchok is a type of prayer we perform to ensure the long life of a person. Sunchok is being conducted for over 100 years. Sunchok happens only in Pin Valley. It is compulsory for everyone to conduct Sunchok in their lifetime. Sunchok is a significant event. In a person’s life. Each & every Sunchok event in Pin Valley is conducted only after getting permission and dates from the Kungri Monastery. It is our custom to go to the Head Lama for permission. For instance, If I want to conduct Sunchok in October, Then I’ll go to him July. Carrying a bottle of Ara (liquor) as gift. And tell him about my plans for conducting Sunchok for my son, wife etc. We go to him every time we conduct Sunchok for a family member. And get an auspicious date for the prayer. Sunchok is a grand, expensive prayer. With close to a 100 monks performing the ceremony. And hundreds or even thousands of guests attending. Important relatives come from outside Pin Valley, from places such as Kaza, Dhankar, Mane etc. Everyone from within Pin Valley will attend. At least one person from each family (in Pin Valley) would attend. People sometimes used to save money for years in order to conduct Sunchok for one of their family members. People get good income from the Pea Crop these days. So conducting Sunchok is no longer a difficult proposition. So the number of Sunchoks have increased drastically. Our Lama finds it difficult to give dates to everyone. A grand event like Sunchok Requires a lot of planning and preparation. Alcohol is a big part of Sunchok. The barley based Ara is brewed at home Weeks in advance before the ceremony. The family conducing Sunchok has to brew good liquor. Upto 30 litres. In addition, All their relatives would bring 5 litres each. This favour will be reciprocated whenever the relatives conduct Sunchok in their homes. It is all a matter of give and take. Only the relatives are required to bring Ara. Other guests will just come and eat a little bit And give some money to the hosts before leaving. The preparations for Sunchok Start in earnest a few days before the ceremony. Friends and neighbours Come and help the host with their preparations. The most significant preparation for Sunchok has to be the making of the flatbread rotis. It is customary for the host to give a few rotis to every one who attends the event. So over a thousand of these rotis are baked at home with help from friends and family. Me: How many rotis have you made till now? She: Counting todays’s preparation, we would have made over 1100 rotis. I would have an approximate idea of how many rotis to make for people attending my Sunchok. It is compulsory to give rotis to the entire village. Sagnam (his village) has a population of about 400-500 people. And we have to give rotis to all of them. Then we estimate how many people would come from outside the village. I would know whether 100, 200 or 300 people would come from outside. It all depends on how many relatives a person has. If someone has a lot of relatives. then he might have to make between 1700 to 1800 rotis (like in Sagnam). Before would give 5 rotis to each member in a family. Our Rinpoche (head Lama) objected to this a few years back. He told us that we are wasting a lot of rotis. Throwing them out to cows etc. There is a lot of wastage. So he asked us to reduce the wastage a bit. Now we have reduced them amount to 3 rotis each. If a family has 10 members then we would give them (10×3) 30 rotis. Various ritual offerings In the form of Tormas and Butter Sculptures. Are prepared by the Lamas A day before the main puja. All the Lamas from the Kungri Monastery are invited. And anywhere between 50 to 100 of them.. Would show up to conduct the ceremony, On the date fixed by their Rinpoche. Around 120 lamas would come to the Sunchok earlier. Now the number has reduced to around 90 as the lamas have dispersed here and there. Some have gone to Rewalsar, Some have gone for their meditations etc. The puja starts after the lamas have their morning Thukpa (breakfast). The lamas recite various prayers.. Dedicated towards the long life and prosperity of the person For whom the Sunchok is being conducted. While the lamas are busy with the puja. The hosts are also busy preparing food and drinks For the lamas and the guests. Thousands of Momos And hundreds of litres of tea Are prepared during the course of the day. The chanting reaches its crescendo by late afternoon When the recipient of the prayer is brought out To do prostrations in front of the altar. The lamas are then paid by the host For helping them to perform the ceremony. Earlier people used to pay ₹400 – 500 based on their personal capacity. Some rich person might even pay ₹600 to the Lamas. Sometimes upto ₹700. People then started complaining that the amount is too high. Regular people were finding it difficult to conduct Sunchok. So these days we have fixed ₹400 as the amount. We will give ₹400 to each Lama. The senior lamas are paid a bit higher at around ₹1000 or more. The prayer would conclude at around 4 to 5pm. The lamas are then paid and then dropped off at their homes. The guests start arriving soon after the lamas leave. The guests are given the same food that was fed to the lamas earlier in the day. Some guests leave after eating, while others stay back for the evening party. Usually the closer relatives stay back for the dance. Other guests would leave after dinner. They would give some money to the hosts and take their share of rotis before leaving. The evening Sunchok party Is what the villagers, especially the young people Look forward to the most. Traditional musicians are brought in from outside Pin Valley And at great cost. It is their responsibility To keep the party going. And keep the energy levels up Late into the night. The guests dance in batches during the party. And during every such dance People in the audience would go up to the dancers And give a 10 Rupee note to each and every one of them. This money is then collected And given to the host of the Sunchok To help them with the financial burdens of Hosting such a large ceremony. We help each other out financially while conducting Sunchok. If Nawang gives ₹300 in my Sunchok then I would give ₹350 in his Sunchok. This is another beautiful example Of the camaraderie between the people of Pin Valley. Helping each other out Physically, Emotionally and even Financially Whenever an opportunity presents itself.

Michael Martin

86 Responses

  1. Trying out a different style of editing and story telling for the new year. Let me know if you can see the difference and if you like it or not. Happy New Year Everyone.


  3. I personally liked the old method of video and representation
    Rest is upto you…
    I am going to keep watching your videos anyways 😎😎😅😅👍👍

  4. Your videos are amazing and beautiful❤️ , Every time when I see your videos I get lost in it , it's feel like l'm part that journey too, thank you so much for taking us to that adventure journey . It's only possible because of your hard work and passion. All the best for your next Ladak trip 👍🧳🎒🏔️🗻😃

  5. Happy New Year!
    A big Thank You for bringing these videos to us. Looking forward to many more 'new ones' this year.

  6. Firstly happy new year saravana,how difficult it is to live there 😳good people with big hearts. Thanks for uploading such a good vedio. 🙏

  7. Beautiful video to start the year. keep up the good work. Local touch added more feel to the video😍😍

  8. Its very nice how you present the cultures and festivals also of these areas.
    And also you can make a video on the ancient and beautiful monastries of Lahaul, Spiti, Kinnaur. (just a suggestion)

  9. Happy New Year sir. It's good you try new different storytelling technique. Not able to compare it more, but I like the subtitles thing in this video, and audio was better in old videos. Other everything is perfect as always. 🙂

  10. This video is nice but my all time favourite is 'A taste of Spiti winter'
    Watched it some 50 times. The music and your narration is a good combo. Thanks And happy new year…

  11. Happy new year! Do you know the significance of the different gestures and moves of the dance? Is there one? It took me a while but over several hours I began to get the moves right. Thedistantstick here.

  12. I have been following your channel since last year. The most amazing part of your way is the ability to play pauses and the insight in their culture. Rare these days.

    I realised the person explaining the rituals was not in the video. You can add a glimpse of it like previous ones.

    Rest was beautiful as usual.

  13. I like how peacefully they live far far away from population,pollution,protests,communal voilence,pointless religious and political debates,feminism ,protests

  14. happy new year sarvana sir, u made my new year special with lovely pin valley video, what a mesmerizing way to celebrate , people n ritual of pin valley is totally diffrent and last part of helping host with money is awesome, this pahadi people have such a large heart

  15. The different threads in narration tied together well here. I personally like your earlier ones. All the best for the new year.

  16. Sir, Request you to please make a video on extreme winter clothing. How many layers you are wearing in that place. Where you purchased all your winter clothing. What kind of dress. To purchase tripod bivy it's features etc.
    This can be much useful for future trekkers like me. Please…
    From Hyderabad.

  17. Hi bro… I have saw ur almost all videos.. Am vry great full to ur work and dedication bro… Great job.. Keep it up… All d best for ur future video and plans… Just explore… It..

  18. Unparalleled work. Amazing coverage. Unique subjects always. Highly informative. I can well appreciate the challenges of such work. God bless you Mr. Grit incarnate. Would love to meet you someday . I was in kaza (GMC ) end of october for 5 days. Next visit in February, god willing. Don't know how to contact you. Please guide. 🙏

  19. I like ur all videos, But this one become my favorite its all about u shown the beautiful culture, tradition of one of the Beautiful part of our country🇮🇳.
    After seeing ur videos I get to know so much about ladakh,pinvalley and so on.
    Great job sir

  20. Thank you sir for making video on such an important ceremony of my valley.. and your way of editing and storytelling is best…👍👌🙏

  21. Thanks for sharing this kind of culture nd information for upper northern India… living style of people r so simple amazing incredible india…. lots of love from Punjab ❤😊👍

  22. The word Sonchok is Boti word and it is made up by two different words. Son means alive and Chok means Ritual. So, Sonchok is considered a Ritual, which is performed for the alive person so that the family will have successful life style as well as happy and healthy.

  23. I dont know how can I express my gratitude to you for bringing out this video. It takes me almost three decades back in time, when I would also spend time with such rural folk hailing from the hills of Nepal, enjoying in their song, dance and revelry. Its a fact that life hasn't changed much in the hills and mountains, and people still retain their old ways of celebrating and partying.
    If you dont mind, can I ask you the name of the song that the women folk can be heard singing.

  24. So nice culture dance n Tsok.i appreciate to you all.but I think it is not sonchok.i think it is sontsok.ཚོགས་Hearty thank you for upload such a nice video.

  25. Beautiful ceremony 👏👏👏

  26. Stanxin སྟན་འཛིན། Dadul འགྲ་དུལ། says:

    Dancing like zanskar people.. I like it… Himalayan village ke bare me Kya khana…

  27. India in motion thanks for sharing this all of your video are knowledgeable . Lahul spiti and kinnaur are my favourite places.

  28. M a new subscriber.. Ur information is awesome nd thnx fr showing us different customs among our Country.. Keep it up

  29. देख कर बहुत अच्छा लगा। आप लोगों की संस्कृति महान है।नमन करते हैं।

  30. great work….but i like the old style of story telling .though this one also flows effortlessly and it contains more information about the place people and their culture…

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