The great Nyingmapa scholar, Padmasambhava (the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism) visited Tibet and Bhutan in the 8th and 9th century. He used to convert opponents of Buddhism by performing rites, reciting mantras and finally performing a dance of subjugation to conquer local spirits and gods. He visited Bhutan to aid the dying king Sindhu Raja. Padmasambhava performed a series of such dances in the Bumthang valley to restore the king’s health – and the grateful king then helped spread Buddhism in Bhutan. Padmasambhava organized the first tsechu in Bumthang, where the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava being the human form) were presented through eight forms of dances. These became the Chams (dances) depicting the glory of Padmasambhava. The Chams were composed mainly to convey religious messages to the people.
Some were composed by Guru Rimpoche while others were created by Tertoen Pema Lingpa, Zhabdrung Rimpoche and other great saints. During the mask dances, the deities of the tantric teachings are invoked and through their power and blessings, misfortunes are removed. All evil spirits and demons that are preventing the spread of Chhoe “The Doctrine” are suppressed, so that the doctrine of Lord Buddha can flourish and bring joy and happiness to all sentient beings.
Below is a list of Tshechus that take place in Bhutan.
THIMPHU DRUBCHEN AND TSHECHU
The eleven-day annual Lhamoi Drupchen, a rite performed to appease the protecting deity Pelden Lhamo (Mahakali), is held from September 12 to 16. Pelden Lhamo (whose name translates as “Glorious Goddess”) is the only female dharma protector common to all four schools of Buddhism and one of the three main protecting deities of Bhutan.
The clergy performs a three-day rite for the Thimphu Domchoe while the Lham Tsomo dance, a highlight of the Thimphu Domchoe festival, is performed in the large courtyard at the Tashichhodzong.
The Drupchen was instituted sometime between 1705 and 1709 by Kuenga Gyaltshen, the first reincarnation of Jampel Dorji, the son of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. According to legend, Pelden Lhamo appeared before him and performed the dances while he was in meditation. Based on these dances, Kuenga Gyeltshen initiated the Drupchhen.
According to the tradition of Lama Gongdue the annual Thimphu Tshechu was introduced in 1670 on the eighth month of the Bhutanese calendar during the reign of the fourth Desi, Tenzin Rabgye (1638-1696). The annual Thimphu Tshechu will take place over four day’s form September 17 to 19, to commemorate the anniversary of Guru Rinpoche. From the time of Gyalsey Tenzin Rabgye, based on various relevant biographies and autobiographies of saints and rulers of the past, compassionate mask dances in the form of peaceful and wrathful figures of most Ter-chams (sacred dances) have been composed and are presented for the well-being of those who attend the occasion.
Paro Tsechu is the most popular in Bhutan with its unique unfurling of the world’s biggest Thangka or Thongdrel ceremony. The pageantry is a unique experience and quite unlike anything you have ever seen before
The festival commemorates the deeds of the great saint Guru Rimpoche which are performed in the form of masked dances. The local people attend the festival to gain merit. It is also a festive time and people come dressed-up in their finest colourful costumes to socialize and make merry. This is not an event organized for tourists; it is an event that has been happening for centuries. “You may get the attention of the Atchara (clown), but people won’t stare at you like elsewhere.’’
Events inside Paro Rinpung Dzong commence with monks performing Shingje Yab Yum, the dance of the Lord of Death (Shingje) and his consort.
This is followed by Durdag, the dance of the lords of the cremation grounds; then Shanag, dance of the black hats, Drametse Ngacham, the dance of the drum from Drametse, De Gye Mang cham, the dance of the eight kinds of spirits, and finally Chhoeshey, a religious song.
Intermingled within these sacred dances, are also Zhungdra and Boedra dances performed by the Dzongkhag’s dancers.
PUNAKHA DRUBCHEN AND TSHECHU
The Punakha Drubchen is an annual festival introduced by Zhabdrung to commemorate the victories over the Tibetans. During the festival, the ‘Pazaps’ or local militia men, dress in battle gear and showcase a battle scene of this distant past recalling the days, when in the absence of a standing army, men from the eight Tshogchens -or great village blocks of Thimpu – came forward and managed to expel the Tibetan forces out of Bhutan ushering in a new-found internal peace and stability.
As for the Punakha Tshechu, it was started by the 70th Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra and the then Home Minister His Excellency Lyonpo Jigme Yoedzer Thinley in 2005, on the request made by Punakha District Administration and people for upholding the Buddhist teachings and keeping alive the noble deeds of Zhabdrung Rimpoche.
The 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). The Punakha Dromche takes place in the first month of the lunar year and ends with the ‘Serda’, a magnificent procession which re-enacts an episode of the war against the Tibetans in the 17th century.
The religious dances performed during festival are called ‘Cham’ and there are a large number of them. Dancers wear spectacular costumes made of yellow silk or rich brocade, often decorated with ornaments of carved bone. For certain dances, they wear masks which may represent animals, fearsome deities, skulls or just simple human beings. These dances can be grouped in three categories; (I) Instructive or Didactic Dances, (II) Dances that purify and protect a place from demonic spirits, and (III) Dances that proclaim the victory of Buddhism.
The Thongdroel unveiled during this festival is of enormous significance. Measuring 83ft x 93 ft, the Punakha Thongdrol (a painted religious scroll) is the largest ever made. Composed entirely of appliqué on more than 6,000 meters of silk brocade, it took 51 artists, two years to complete. Depicting 20 of the greatest gurus and sages around the central figure of Shabdrung, the top half of the Thongdroel is devoted to the 11 manifestations of Shabdrung’s lineage. The bottom half depicts Bhutan’s spiritual leaders including the current Je Khenpo (chief abbot).
Dance and music play a very important part in the cultural life of Bhutanese people. Each village and community has a rich tradition of dance that marks the passing seasons, communal occasions and shared experiences. The Trashigang Tsechu is performed in the winter months. Many people gather at the Trashigang dzong to witness the Tsechu. People from Marak and Sakten with their unique costumes can also be seen during the Trashigang Tsechu. Many tourists also visit this festival and it is an excellent time to mingle with the people from eastern Bhutan.
Another remarkable tshechu in Tashigang is the Kholong tshechu, which begins in Yonphu, Kanglung gewog, on November 23. This tshechu draws plenty of attention not because it is one of the oldest in the east, but because of its name. Kholong, a literal translation from Sharchopkha, means a ‘fight’. So a precise interpretation would be the “fighting tshechu”.
As such it is not surprising to find people wondering if there are going to be fight competitions during the tshechu
Bumthang – Jambay Lhakhang Drup
The festival is held for duel reasons; to commemorate the establishment of the Jambay Lhakhang (temple) in 7th century and to honor Guru Rimpoche, a saint who introduced a Tantric form of Buddhism in Bhutan. A variety of traditional and mask dances are performed and each dance has a specific meaning and importance.
This festival is one of the most important in Bhutan and the highlight 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. The festival dances were composed mostly by Terton Pema Lingpa, the great treasure discoverer of the 15th century.
The first evening’s program begins around 7pm, with the “Jinsi” the burning of the sacred fire, Shana Cham with Ging Cham, Tseking Karna, Tshok Cham and Mewang (the sacred fire ceremony).
Day two of the festival begins around 9.30am with a “chipdrel” traditional reception. The Astara (clown) welcomes the audience and the marchang ceremony. Shinji Yab Yum is the first mask dance of the ceremony followed by Youelem Peling Ging Sum – Driging, Juging, Ngaging Durda Cham and then takes break for lunch around 1pm. After lunch the dances resume and Jachung ends the day with the Boechung dance Pacham.
The third day of the festival begins with the Atsara (clown) dance Dola Pangtoy, Shazam, Shana Phurcham with Durda and Shana Ngacham. After lunch the festival resumes beginning with the Ging and Tsholing Cham (the dance of the sacred war between the Gods and the Demons), Tsecho Gingcham (Tercham), Damitse Ngacham (the famous drum beat dance originating from Dramitse) and Pholey Moley Cham.
The final day begins with the Chungtsam Cham, Gicham, Dorling Ngacham (Tercham of Terchen Dorjilingpa), Raksha Gocham, Raksha Mangcham (this dance symbolizes life after death, at the court of the Lord of the Dead), and ends the festival of Jambay Lhakhang with the Ten Wang (Blessings from the sacred statue of Terton Dorjilingpa) .
The Domkhar Festival in Chumey valley in Bumthang district was established by lam Kuenkhen Longchen Rabjam in the 16th Century. Longchen Rabjam (1308-63), a pre-eminent the scholar of Dranang, Tibet was revered as the great redactor and dexographer of Nyingma teaching. He promoted the special teaching of Dzongpo Chenpo (great perfection). Towards the end of his life, he founded eight monasteries throughout the country. The festival is observed every year from April 23-25 at Domkhar village temple.
The festival is held inside the Jakar dzong. It is a relatively new festival organized by the Jakar monastic body and lasts for five days from October 15-18, during the nine month of Bhutanese lunar calendar.
Tangsibi is a village near Ura valley in the Bumthang district. The festival is held in the small village temple starting from September 22- 24.