Genyen Dorji Dradul is revered in Bhutan as Ap Genyen Jagpa Milen or simply Ap Genyen. He commands a deep respect among his followers. However, being dralha or a War God, is known to be very obnoxious to his enemies. He is also revered as Keylha or birth deity for those children born in upper Thimphu.
History of origination associates Thimphu with Ap Genyen. Thimphu derived its name after Genyen Jagpa Milen dissolved or disappeared into a rock which is still visible outside Dechenphu Lhakhang. “Thim” means to dissolve or sink and “Phu” means the hill.
Legend speaks of Ap Genyen serving great Drukpa masters as well as people of his locality. He could be seen in human form doing all kinds of odd works for the people. Although people could use his service, they were forbidden to serve him stale food and meat. People adhered to these conditions until one widow, whom Ap Genyen had helped fetch firewood had served him with stale food because she didn’t have anything to offer. It is being said that after eating at the widow’s house, he became violent and also killed some local people. This was the last time the people saw him serve in human form because during that time, the abbot of Druk Ralung in Tibet, Lama Jamyang Wangpo had just arrived to visit Bhutan. The lama subdued him and made him disappear or dissolve into the rock and ordered him to come out in person only when commanded by lamas of higher spiritual ranks. Since then he could only help when invoked only. Lama Jamyang Kuenga Singye was not the only lama who subdued Ap Genyen under oath. Many lamas who followed later renewed the submission oath so that he could serve the beings without averting to his demonic ways. It is believed that Ap Genyen is an emanation of Hayagriva (tamdrin), the horse headed deity. Although he emanated as Hayagriva, his birth to Nuejin Yonshue and the red headed demoness called Dongmar resulted in his birth as one kind of malignant spirit or demon. He indulged in things which went against the principles of dharma until he was subdued.
Legend goes on to describe that when Guru Rinpoche happened to stop by at Himalayas to tame all the malignant spirits, Ap Genyen and few other spirits like Genyen Kula Gangri, Damchen Dorji Lekpa and another deity (whose name I am not able to remember), made voluntary submission to Guru Rinpoche. Guru Rinpoche was pleased with these five demons for making voluntary submission and as an acceptance, Guru Rinpoche is known to have bound them by oath in Yangleyshey in Nepal and made them the protector of Buddhism. He also gave them some teachings and bestowed upon them the title of Genyen. Genyen is a religious status being given to someone after accomplishing certain level of practice. Not every spirit tamed or individual got the title of Genyen. It is being said that Genyens have chances of getting enlightenment at one point of time and so do Ap Genyen.
However, many other deities including Ap Chungdu of Haa valley are known to have revolted against Guru Rinpoche. It is being said that they were being tamed with thunderbolt and lightning.
When Shabdrung Rinpoche arrived at Lunana from Tibet, Ap Genyen went all the way from Thimphu with his mermaid consort Pangri Zampa Aum Tshomem to receive Shabdrung . Later, he went back to Gasa and escorted Shabdrung all the way to Thimphu Pangri Zampa Druk Phodrang. While Shabdrung was residing at Pangrizampa, Ap Genyen was constantly at his service. He also made other un-subdued and malignant spirits work for Shabdrung.
One story speaks of Shabdrung meeting all the un-subdued and malignant spirits around Thimphu near the present day Pangrizampa Lhakhang. Shabdrung was seeking their help while he stayed in their territory. Spirits and deities are known to be very territorial in nature like animals. It is being said that Ap Genyen, without consulting others present, volunteered on their behalf help Shabdrung and also be protector of Buddhism. The other spirits and deities were infuriated and at the same time engulfed with fear. They didn’t like the idea of Ap Genyen speaking for all of them. They felt that pledging heart and soul for all times to come was too much for them to fulfill. After the meeting was over, Ap Genyen landed up tolerating the temper and abuses of other spirits and deities. However, Shabdrung was very impressed with Ap Genyen though. He was rewarded for volunteering to help him and be the protector of Buddhism.
There is this very popular and interesting story of Ap Genyen and Ap Chungdud. Along with other deities and spirits, these two deities were serving Shabdrung when this story is known to have happened. Ap Genyen and Ap Chungdud were sent to fetch fire from the sorcerer’s country. It is being said that although two of them were sent, only Ap Chungdud was able to obtain the fire from sorcerer’s realm. However, along the way, they happened to pass by a village where some religious ceremonies were happening. Here, Ap Chungdud, indulged himself in drinking wine. As a result, he forgot Shabdrung’s command to return before nightfall. Ap Genyen , however was restless. He also wanted to impress upon Shabdrung that he was the one who got the fire from Sorcerer’s realm. So Ap Genyen stole fire from Ap Chungdud and rushed back to Shabdrung’s palace. It is being said that Shabdrung was waiting impatiently for the fire to start a religious ceremony. When asked about Ap Chungdud’s whereabouts, Ap Genyen reported that Ap Chungdud stayed back in one of the villages drinking wine. Shabdrung got infuriated with Ap Chungdud and commanded that Ap Chungdud would no longer be allowed to dwell in temples and monasteries and also all the places where utses are erected. In his absence, the verdict was passed. Shabdrung ordered that Ap Chungdud’s torma, the ritual cake, which was made to invoke him be thrown away. As torma was being taken out to be thrown, Ap Chungdud arrived and made his case to Shabdrung. He appealed that Ap Genyen had cheated him by stealing fire from him when he was drunk. The name Ap Genyen Jagpa Milen is known to have originated from this event. Jagpa Milen means “the thief who brought fire”. However, by the time Ap Chungdud had arrived, the smaller tormas surrounding the main torma from the rear side had already fallen off from the base and could not be retrieved due to darkness. It is being said that Ap Chungdud’s torma is built short of two smaller tormas while invoking him today. After hearing Ap Chungdud’s case, Shabdrung took some pity on him but could not reverse the earlier command of refusing him place in dzongs and monasteries. But Shabdrung promised to make him very powerful in his territory. Now it was time for Shabdrung to be angry with Ap Genyen. Upon hearing Ap Chungdud’s story, it is said that Shabdrung slapped Ap Genyen so hard that he became deaf on one ear ( probably the left ear). Today when Ap Genyen is invoked during rituals, the monks whistle in high pitch, crash cymbals harder and bang the drums louder. They also ring the bell harder because it is believed that he is still deaf in one ear and would sometimes miss the invocation.
Apart from Thimphu, Ap Genyen is also appeased in some part of eastern Bhutan, Gelephu and in great many places in Nepal and Tibet. Although Ap Genyen has not attained enlightenment today, it is believed that he would do some at one point of time because of having received teachings and blessings from Guru Rinpoche and many other great lamas. Therefore, it is said that seeking refuge in him will not chain one in the cyclic existence.
Although he looks wrathful, he has a history of being compassionate and is believed to provide protection to those who seek his refuge irrespective of the place one comes from.