Bhutan is the land of people who are deeply associated with their age-long customs and festivals. These festivals bring smile on their faces. The Bhutanese celebrate their festivals with huge fanfare. They dance, sing and eat, and follow plethora of customs which are inextricably associated with these festivals. Watching them perform these festivals is a delightful and intriguing sight.
The Bhutanese are fun loving people, they love socializing, attending festivals, joking, playing, flirting and consuming alcohol that help them to be in the spirit of celebration. Owing to their fun loving nature, throughout the country there are various kinds of festivals that are celebrated in different times of the year. Among these festivals, the most recognized and attended by the mass is Tsechu festival (Tse- Date Chu – Ten). This festival is celebrated to commemorate the great deeds of 8th century Tantric master Guru Padmasambhava who is credited in spreading of Mahayana Buddhism in entire Himalaya region.
These Tsechu festivals are dominated by ancient old religious Mask Dances that are performed by both monks and lay person in brilliant costumes re-enacting the legendary events, accompanied by blaring horns, booming drums, and clashing cymbals as they whirl and leap around the ancient old courtyard of a Dzong (Fortress). Crowds of people gather in their finest hand woven dress, brightly patterned cloth for which Bhutan is renowned, creating an intensely colorful and exciting atmosphere that had remained unchanged in its traditional purity for centuries. Locals believe that by dressing in their finest are another form of offering that could bring them blessings give them an opportunity to please the deities which in return bring them merit, luck and prosperity and also an occasion to see people and to be seen. The dance itself is believed to be the representation of the deities that are encountered during the intermediate period of Death and rebirth.
During these festival trips, we traverse through the culturally centered valleys of Bhutan, experiencing the enchantment of pure and exotic land, through its ancient fortresses, monasteries, and temples that dot the country side and have opportunity to witness Bhutan’s rich arts and crafts that transforms into exquisite works of art from the hands of master artisans. Thanks to its isolation, small population, mountainous terrain, and the national religion of Buddhism, which stresses the sanctity of all life, Bhutan has protected its forests and wildlife. As a result, this tiny kingdom, in contrast to all of its neighbors, possesses the last truly intact, large-scale ecosystem in the Himalayas. Protecting not just nature but culture is a huge priority for Bhutan. The Bhutanese people constitute one of the most interesting and least disturbed cultures in the world and are often known as the “Living museum” by its few visitors that make into Bhutan.
Dromche (festival) generally include dances and this festival is dedicated to Yeshe Gompo (Mahakala) or Palden Lhamo, the two main protective deities of Drukpas (Drukpas = means people of Druk land or Bhutanese). Punakha Dromche take place in the first month of the lunar year and ends with ‘Serda’, a magnificent procession which re-enacts an episode of the war against the Tibetan in the 17th century.
Jambay Lhakhang Drup
The festival is held for duel reasons; to commemorate an establishment of Jambay Lhakhang (temple) in 7 th century and to honor Guru Rimpoche, a saint who introduced Tantric form of Buddhism in Bhutan . A variety of traditional and mask dances are performed and each dance bear significant meaning/importance.
This festival is one of the most important in Bhutan and its high light is the ‘Mewang” – the fire ceremony and the ” Tercham” – a religious dance. A fire dance is held in the evening to bless infertile women so that they may bear children.
There is a sequence of dances at Paro Tshechu. Most dances are the same at others Tshechus, but the sequence varies. On day one is Shinje Yab Yum, dance of the lord of death and his consort. The costume is of buffalo mask and long brocade dress. The day two begins with “chipdrel” traditional reception. The Astara (clown) welcomes the audience with the marchang ceremony. The the mask dances begin
Thimpu festival is the festival of dances. Some of these dances are shacham or the dance of the four stag, peling gingsum or the dance of the three kinds of ging, pacham or the dance of the heroes, shawo shachi or dance of the stags and the hounds, dranyeo cham or dance with guitar, shana or black dance, shaa nga cham or dance of the 21 black hats with drum and, pholeg moleg or dance of the noblemen and the ladies.
Tshechu is festival honouring Guru Padsambhava – ‘one who was born from lotus flower’. This Indian saint contributed enormously to the diffusion of Tantric Buddhism in the Himalayan regions of Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan etc. around 800 A.D. He is the founder of the Nyingmapa, the ‘old school’ of Lamaism which still has numerous followers.