A window into Bhutan rich and unique cultural heritage
Attending a festival in Bhutan is one of the best opportunity to witness how Bhutan is deeply steeped into his heritage. You can observe mask dancers performed energetic dance dramas in colorful and stylized costumes. It is also an opportunity to mix and meet with Bhutanese. They are coming from all over the country to assist to these festivals as it has a particular significance for them.
Festivals are a pillar of the Bhutanese society
They help passing on stories and legends from one generation to another. They also help preserving the ancient lore and art of mask-making. But most of all, festivals contribute to Gross National Happiness as the festival are a unifying and bonding force.
The spectacular dances that form these Tshechus are known as cham. The subjugation of evil and the purification and protection from demonic spirits are important themes in the tsechu and dances. Dances with these themes are usually interwoven with those which are morally instructive or didactic and those that proclaim the victory of Buddhism and the glory of Padmasambhava. Bhutanese believe witnessing mask dances as a blessing and as an essential part to gain enlightenment (Nirvana).
Most tshechus also feature the unfurling of a thongdrel – a large appliqué thangka typically depicting a seated Padmasambhava surrounded by holy beings, the mere viewing of which is said to cleanse the viewer of sin. The thongdrel is raised before dawn and rolled down by morning.
Festivals are also a special occasion where families, friends and community share meals of red rice, spicy Pork, Ema Datshi and Momos (dumplings) whilst drinking the heady traditional rice wine known as Ara.
Frequently Asked Questions
The festivals of Bhutann are rich and happy expressions of its ancient Buddhist culture and its traditions.
What is a Tshechu
A tshechu is a religious festival meaning “tenth day”. They are held annually in various temples, monasteries and dzongs throughout the country.
It is believed that everyone must attend a Tshechu and witness the mask dances at least once to in order to receive blessings and wash away their sins.
Every mask dance performed during a Tshechu has a special meaning or a story behind it and many are based on stories and incidents from as long ago as the 8th century, during the life of Guru Padmasambhava.
why do we celebrate Tshechu in Bhutan?
These festivals are held in all districts in honour of Guru Rinpoche, the saint who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century. Tsechus are held on auspicious days and months in the Bhutanese calendar, and last up to four days in which a series of highly stylised masked dance rituals are performed.
They provide the chance for remote communities to come together, to dance, to be happy and to share in the teachings of Padmasambhava. Tshechus encourage people to dress up, spend time at the local monastery or dzong (fortified Buddhist learning centre) and make the most of the assembled market stalls as well as packing a picnic in traditional bamboo baskets.
what are the most popular Tshechus ?
The Thimphu and Paro tsechus are by far the most popular festivals with tourist groups, and increasing numbers of visitors are discovering the theatrical drubchoe in beautiful Punakha. These three are the grandest festivals, on the biggest scale and are true spectacles, but the tourist crowds can be thick at times.
Some old Bhutan hands prefer the smaller festivals or tsechus held in lesser-known regional dzongs and lhakhangs. They may be lighter on spectacle but they provide a more intimate and traditional experience, and you might just be the only foreigners there: Has summer festival, Wangdue Prodrang Tshechu, Black Necked Crane festival, Jambay Lhakhang Drup
What is the festival etiquette for tourist ?
During festivals you can photograph from the dzong courtyard where the dances take place. Remember, however, that this is a religious observance and you should behave accordingly. Consider the following etiquette:
- Use a telephoto lens without a flash.
- Don’t let your desire for a close-up get in the way of the dancers or block the view of other spectators.
- Don’t intrude on the dance ground or on the space occupied by local people seated at the edge of the dance area, and if you do end up in the front row, remain seated.
- Don’t photograph a member of the royal family, even if you happen to be at a festival or gathering where they are present.
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