31 May, 2015

A legend retold - Gasa Lamai Singye and Changyul Bum Galeem

            It was just another call of duty and, I was assigned a project that spans across Thimphu, Punakha and Gasa. Before I could think of anything, the first thing that came to my mind was the most legendary tale of love, set in Punakha, Gasa and finally in Thimphu. This story survived for generations and even to this day, it continues to draw attention of  film-makers, lyricists, poets, writers and many other artistic minds. It is a kind of legend where curtain fell much before the show was over. Gasa Lamai Singye & Changyul Bum Galeem is a heart-breaking ancient romantic tale and even now, it is as touching as anything that has ever been thought of in works of fiction.

It was during one of my travels from Punakha to Gasa, I dropped by the ancient house of Galeem at Changyul in Punakha. It stands adjacent to the highway about a kilometre away from Punakha Dzong towards Gasa. The 700-year-old house, though almost dilapidated, still looks antique and traditional, making it a beautiful symbol of love. I have also been to the residence of present Gasa Lama, where Singye once lived as attendant to Gasa Lama. Inspired by these historical evidences, I made it a point to visit Sisichhum house at Sisina in Thimphu. It was at Sisichhum house where they met for the last time, before they finally got united after having many rebirths and faced brutal separations each time they were born.

Galeem's house at Changyul in Punakha

It is a tale about two ordinary people, but their extraordinary love and commitment for each other made their tale an eternal legend. Such feelings of extraordinary love and commitments has become a thing of past in this day and age of pure materialistic world. Galeem, a beautiful girl from Changyul in Punakha and Singye an official who served in Punakha were in love. They were both eager to tie the knot and move forward in their life like any one of us.
However, the story took a turn when Deb (Chieftain) of the locality saw the beautiful Galeem, who possessed a kind of beauty that everybody would want to have but nobody can have.  The Deb who was not even aware of Galeem’s relation with Singye shared his interest in her to his senior attendants and sought their views. One of the senior most attendants who knew about Galeem and Singye was not honest with his lord but opted to please him. He strategized that Singye be separated from Galeem and in his absence Galeem can be wedded to Deb. Soon Singye was ordered to serve Gasa Lama (Lama in Gasa) and commanded that he move to Gasa immediately. The separation was painful but command was command, too heavy to bear yet too precious to give away. Therefore, Singye proceeded to serve lama in Gasa knowing very little what was in store for them. Singye was then known as Gasa Lamai Singye meaning ‘Gasa Lama’s Singye.’

After more than seven centuries, I stood outside this historical house of Galeem in silence and was lost in thought about the legendary love story. To me, more than the feeling of nostalgia, it was quite a thought that a part of the story even matched with that of my own life, though in no way, mine can be compared to that of the legend. Being there itself was anyway, a mesmerising moment.

At Galeem's house

Then, after Singye’s departure to his new posting, the Deb’s proposal was conveyed to Galeem’s parents. The parents welcomed the proposal but were stunned, when they came to know about Galeem already being pregnant. This infuriated her father and it not only led to beatings but also she was banished from the house.
With present Gasa Lama at the entrance to Gasa Lama's

Away from home and by the bank of Mochhu River, a pregnant Galeem who was expecting Singye’s child laid almost motionless. Despite her ill health and amidst the painful moment, Galeem managed to sing out to travellers passing by, to check if they are going to Gasa and if so, to request them to pass on her message to her love to return to her as soon as possible and described the condition that she was in. A traveller who sympathized the pathetic condition of Galeem agreed to convey her message although he wasn’t travelling to Gasa. This melancholic musical note is still sung today and the stretch of river at this spot flows so calmly. It is believed that even the river listened to Galeem’s song. 
Steps leading to Gasa Lama's residence

The message was conveyed correctly and Singye acted very promptly. While on his way down, he met Galeem in a dreamlike state. They sat down and began to lunch together but Galeem disappeared into nowhere. The sudden disappearance happened because lamas performing her cremation rites beckoned her soul. Galeem was no more, by then. Singye ran down even faster and when he reached a bridge across Mochhu river, his worst fear was confirmed. He knew that the pyre at a distance was the sight of Galeem’s cremation. He fainted and fell down. Then, it was again Galeem’s soul that sang a song requesting the people around to help her love to gain his consciousness. At crematorium, a pyre was lighted but Galeem’s body did not catch fire and remained unburnt despite all kinds of fuelling. When Singye arrived near the pyre, he jumped into the fire and a huge flame consumed both of them in no time. Thus, they got united in death although they were separated while living. For those who are committed, power can only snatch a form and not love.

Gasa Dzong (Rear view of Gasa Lama's residence)


In their undying love, the legend continued but it only became quintessential tragic story where the fate and circumstances kept separating them. They had rebirth as banana trees but were uprooted and thrown away. When they took form of cats, one of them was killed by a dog; when born as a rooster and hen, one of them was eaten by a mongoose; when reborn to a cow and bull, the bull was sold away to a far off place and it continued for many lives.

Finally, after many lives, they were born again as humans. This time, Galeem was born as the daughter to a rich family in Sisichhum house at Sisina in Thimphu and Singye to a poor family in nearby village at Genekha. Sisichum house is located beside a road at a distance of about 24 kilometres from Thimphu towards Phuentsholing. They met again in Galeem’s house in Sisina when Singye visited the house to sell earthen pots. In each other’s presence, the memory of past lives began to reel and she fainted. Before Singye could do anything he was chased away by Galeem’s parents and their servants suspecting him to be the cause of her falling into unconsciousness. When Galeem regained her conscious, she followed him and met him at another village where he was still selling earthen pots. Thereafter, they united together both in heart and soul.

Sisichhum House at Sisina in Thimphu

During my visit to these places from Changyul to Gasa and then to Sisina, I met many generous people, some of them even invited me to their houses and we talked of this great legend. To me, Galeem’s house at Changyul is more like a historical ruin than a monument and is far more remote with hardly any visitors unlike the Taj Mahal, which is visited by around 60,000 people a day. However, the tale is no less than any other romantic stories from Shakespearian play Romeo & Juliet to Tristan & Isolde and others.
I am so happy to have set my foot to these historical places because I have always wanted to see these places. Since my childhood, I was always astonished by the enthralling love stories and had attraction to them. If things go my way, I have plans to spend more time in these houses in future and pay my tribute to the truest lovers who placed love beyond everything.


  1. Very good story and well researched, keep it up the same spirit.

  2. Thank you very much for your kind words.

  3. O My god, how did I miss your blog for so long. Ok Now I have it in my feeds, so I will never miss any of your posts.
    And this post in particular is the kind I love- mapping the medieval love story... I envy your journey. Isn't it intriguing to hear of such tales that seem like fairytales and then there are all these real places ... I would love to follow the journey to Gasa too. Loved reading it and amazing photographs.

  4. Let us make it together someday. I bet you will find many things to write about.

  5. I am wondering how is that house 700 years old. If that house is 700 years then the Changyul Galem must be around 14th century where Gasa Dzong is not even built....

  6. Good observation! Samtem. My speculation here is, that house must have been built by Galem’s ancestors long…long ago. It may not have been built during her time. Since the story took place at the time she was there, it came to be known as Galem’s house. On the other hand, Gasa Dzong was built in 17th century over the site of a meditation place established by Drubthob Terkungpa in 13th century. So, Gasa Lama existed even before the present Dzong was built. Of course, the question whether Drubthob was the one referred to as 'Gasa Lama' in the legend needs to be ascertained. I have given the picture of the present Gasa Lama's residence to indicate that Gasa Lama lived there.

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  8. Wow! Legendary love story. Loved to read through your thoughts and it was instilling something about strength a love can carry.
    Thank YOU!

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  10. Nice research, I loved reading

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