Festival in Bhutan
As a Mahayana kingdom, Bhutan showcases a mosaic of festivals that illuminates the sanctity of Buddhism which is deeply revered and adhered. Losar (New Year) is celebrated with friends and families to welcome the New Year with happiness and prosperity. Rich delicacies of food are served and people engage in various traditional games like archery, khuru (Dart) and deygor.
Tshechus are another form of religious festival celebrated in Bhutan; Tshechus are conducted annually in every districts of Bhutan. Tshechu literally means the tenth day (Bhutanese calendar) which is considered to be divine and is celebrated either in a monastery or a Dzong.
Tshechus are more than an ordinary festival and thus, has mask dances performed to mark the celebration. Various mask dances are performed during the Tshechus, to name a few; mask dances like Paa Cham (dance of the heroes), Zhana Cham (Black Hat Dance), Durdag Cham (the dance of the cremation ground lord) and Guru Tshengye (Eight Manifestations of Guru Rinpoche). Mask dances in Bhutan dates back to the 8th century and it was Terton Pema Lingpa who made it an integral part of Bhutanese culture in the 15th century. These mask dances were further developed by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in the 17th century. All the mask dances symbolizes the victory of good over evil and are performed to let people have a closer look at life after death and addresses the need of leading a good and a pious life. Tshechus also exhibit the colorful social life, people from all walks of life come together to witness the mask dances dressed in their best Ghos and Kiras to be blessed and to be cleansed of all the sins. Zhungdra (classical form) and Boedra (court form) dances are also performed during the Tshechus to show case the Bhutanese expression of social mores and beliefs.
There are other festivals that are also celebrated by the Bhutanese; Thruebab (blessed rainy day), Lochoes (annual rituals), Zhabdrung Kuchoe (death anniversary of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal) and Lhabab Duechen (Descending day of Lord Buddha). Most of the festivals celebrated have a spiritual connotation which exemplifies the spiritual nature of the Bhutanese people.
Some of the most unique festivals that are held in Bhutan are:
1. Punakha Drubchen
The annual Punakha Drupchen held in Punakha Dzong recreates a battle scene in which Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the founder of Bhutanese state, hoodwinked Tibetan invaders into believing that he had thrown Rangjung Kharsapani, a self-emanated image of Avalokiteśvara and Bhutan’s most sacred relic, into the river. Rangjung Kharsapani emerged from the spinal bone of Tsangpa Gyarey during his cremation. Zhabdrung Rinpoche brought it to Bhutan when he fled Tibet in 1616. In 1639, as the Tibetan forces marched towards Punakha to seize the precious relic, Zhabdrung Rinpoche led a procession to the bank of the Mochu River and pretended to throw the relic, the bone of contention, into the river. Disappointed at what they thought was a silly act, the Tibetan forces withdrew.
2. Paro Tshechu
The Tshechu brings together thousands from people from western districts. It is one of the most colourful religious festivals. The highlight of the tshechu is the unfurling of the large thongdrol (scroll painting) of Guru Rinpoche. Thongdrol means ‘liberation at sight’. A mere sight of a thongdrol is believed to liberate the beholder.
3. Ura Yakchoe
Ura Yakchoe is a religious festival conducted in the picturesque village of Ura. Besides many mask dances, the festival displays a sacred relic, a statue that came to the village mysteriously. A lama approached an old woman outside her house and asked for a cup of water. When she came out with water, the lama had disappeared leaving behind a sack that contained a statue. That statue is on public display at the annual festival.
4. Thimphu Dromchoe
Thimphu Dromchoe was started in 1710 by Gyalse Kunga Gyeltshen, the reincarnation of Zhabdrung Rinpoche’s son Jampal Dorji, in the form of Lhamoi Drubchen. Lhamoi Drubchen (religious performance dedicated to the guardian deity Palden Lhamo) was followed by three days of tshechu. Gyalse Kunga Gyeltshen was prophesied to institute the dromchoe at Cheri Monastery where he had a vision of Palden Lhamo and a dance dedicated to her. The dromchoe still follows the same tradition and attracts huge crowds of devotees.
5. Jampay Lhakhang Drup
Jampay Lhakhang Drub enacts the dances that Guru Rinpoche is believed to have performed to subdue the evil spirits in the 8th century. King Sindhu Raja of Chakhar in Bumthang invited Guru Rinpoche to Bhutan to subdue the evil spirits of the valley. Later in the 15th century, Terton Dorji Lingpa introduced the religious teachings of Guru Rinpoche through this festival.
6. Nanlakhar Tshechu
Nalakhar Tshechu is held in the remote rural village of Nalakhar village in Bumthang. It is held once a year to bring happiness, good harvest, and prosperity to the villages and country as a whole. The entire village attends the tshechu in their finest clothes with pride.
7. Shingkhar Dechenling Tshechu
The tshechu of Shingkhar Rabney in Bumthang takes place from the 6th to the 11th day of the 9th month and religious dances are performed.
A man called the Old Man (Chath Dorji) plays an important role in the festival. Wearing a brownish, wrinkled mask, he blesses women for fertility with a wooden phallus. He represents the identity of the village.
8. Khinyel Ramda
The annual event is observed by the people of Metshog Gewog in Lhuntse. It is called Ramda (Rabney in Dzongkha), which means consecration ceremony. It is the annual anniversary of laying the foundation of Khinyel Lhakhang. Khinyel Lhakhang is believed to be an ancient lhakhang. Its foundation is believed to have been laid at the same time as the first lhakhang in Tibet.
9. Jomolhari Festival
Jomolhari Mountain Festival is a two-day event celebrated at the base of Mt. Jomolhari by communities located along scenic trekking routes in Bhutan. The festival celebrates the culture of Soe Yaksa and Soe Yutoed that live in harmony with nature. The officials of Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park and local school children join the communities in the celebration.
10. Talo Tshechu
Talo Tshechu celebrated by the community of Talo in Punakha showcases the community’s deeply religious and sobering culture. Besides religious mask dances, the three-day tshechu features sacred, evocative traditional songs performed by the dance troupe of the community.
11. Chador Tshechu (Soldeb Tshechu)
The three-day Soldeb Tshechu is performed at Chador Lhakhang in Trashigang starting from the 10th day of the seventh month of the Bhutanese calendar. A number of mask dances are performed during the three day. In earlier times, Ter Cham (Treasure Dance) was performed at night. The dancers applied soot on their faces to hide identification as they danced around a fire in front of the temple.
12. Sakteng Tshechu
The three-day annual Sakteng Tshechu is held at Sakteng Lhakhang located in the semi-nomadic village of Sakteng in Trashigang. Like all other tshechus in Bhutan, Sakteng Tshechu brings the community together in merrymaking and worship as ara (locally brewed alcoholic drink) flows freely. But the highlight of the tshechu is Yak dance and Ache Lhamo dance which are unique to the Brokpa (nomadic) culture.
13. Yongphu Tshechu
Unlike other Bhutanese villages, Yongphu village in Trashigang observes three tshechus annually. Trenda Tshechu is held from the 8th to the 10th of the 5th month, the second tshechu known as Ter Cham (Treasure Dance) is held in the 8th month, and the third one is held from the 14th to the 16th of the 10th month on the Bhutanese Calendar. On the 17th day of the month, all nangten (relics) are displayed to the public. The mask dances performed at Yongphu Lhakhang are different from those performed elsewhere in the country.
14. Choeten Kora
Choeten Kora brings together people from across the country. Besides religious ceremonies and mask dances, a unique feature of the festival is circumambulation (kora) of the choeten. Dakpa Kora (kora for the people from Arunachal Pradesh known as Dakpa to the Bhutanese) is held on the 15th day of the 3rd month. A girl (dakini) from Arunachal Pradesh is believed to have been buried alive inside the choeten as its main relic. Drukpa Kora is held on the 30th day of the same month
15. Gomphu Kora
Gomphu Kora is one of the biggest annual attractions in the eastern part of Bhutan. The biggest attraction of Gomphu Kora in Trashiyangtse is the circumambulation. Not only do people from Tashiyangtse and neighbouring valleys come to partake in the festivity, but Dakpa people from Arunachal Pradesh come to celebrate three days of Gomphu Kora Tshechu.
16. Druk Wangyal Tshechu
Druk Wangyal Tshechu is held annually at Druk Wangyal Lhakhang on the Dochula Pass. Set against the backdrop of sparkling mountains, the tshechu features both traditional and newly choreographed mask dances and folk dances. Some mask dances at the tshechu pay tribute to the fourth King of Bhutan and Royal Bhutan Army who fought bravely against Indian militants camping in the jungles of Bhutan and flushing them out in 2003