is one of the most religious countries in the Tibetan Buddhist world. And
like in all Buddhist nations, festivals have a special place in the hearts
of its residents. Most of the Bhutanese festivals commemorate the deeds of
the Buddha, or those of the great masters of the past associated with one
Buddhist tradition or another.
Bhutanese culture is characterized
by religious celebrations. Its people love socializing, attending festivals,
joking, playing, and doing all the things that help them to be in the spirit
of celebration. Religion and social life are so intrinsically linked in the
culture that some festival appears to be taking place somewhere in Bhutan
throughout the year. Among these festivals, one of the most recognized and
attended by the masses is the Tsechu festival ('Tse' means 'date' and 'Chu'
means 'ten'; i.e. '10th day'). This festival is celebrated to commemorate
the great deeds of the 8th century Tantric Master Guru Padmasambhava.
or simply 'Guru'
as he is referred to,
introduced the Nyingma
school of Buddhism into Tibet and Bhutan.
Each 10th day of the lunar calendar is said to commemorate a special event
in the life of Padmasambhava and some of these are dramatized in the context
of a religious festival. Most of the festivals last from three to five days
- of which one day usually falls on the 10th day of the lunar calendar. It
is not just the time for people to get together, dress up and enjoy a
convivial light hearted atmosphere, but also a time to renew one's faith,
receive blessings by watching the sacred dances, or receive 'empowerment'
from a lama or Buddhist monk.
auspicious event of many of the Tshechus is the unfurling of the Thongdrol
from the main building overlooking the dance area. This is done before
sunrise and most people rush to witness the moment. Thongdrols
or religious pictures that are usually embroidered
rather than painted. The word itself means 'liberation on sight.' It is
believed that bad karmas are expiated simply by viewing it. Spring is one of
the best times to visit Bhutan; it is also at this time that the local
inhabitants of Paro celebrate the spring festival, one of the most popular
festivals. Monks as well as laymen dressed in brilliant costumes and wearing
masks of both wrathful as well as peaceful deities, re-enact the legends and
history of Buddhism in the Dragon Kingdom. The festival culminates in the
spectacular showing of the four storey high, 350 years old Thangkha
(Buddhist religious scroll), - celebrating the deeds of Padmasambava, who is
credited with introducing Buddhism to Bhutan.
The Wandgue and
Thimphu Tsechus are in the fall and they too are most impressive. These
festivals are very popular with western tourists. The festivals in Bumthang
and East Bhutan attract fewer tourists and those who want to get a more
authentic flavor of Bhutan's cultural and religious extravaganza will be
Apart from its religious implications, the Tshechu
is also an annual social gathering where people dress in their finest
clothing and jewellery. A small fair may be organized outside the Dzong for
those looking for variety entertainment. Locals attending the festival enjoy
a picnic lunch with an abundance of locally brewed alcohol. After the
festival they traverse west to east along Bhutan's lateral highway enjoying
the great biodiversity, ranging from conifer forests to banana trees and
cactus plants. Along the route one catches glimpses of various birds and
wild animals, and experiences the ancient tradition and culture of the
Bhutanese way of life.
The dances that are performed at this event honoring the 'Guru', known as
Cham, are performed to bless onlookers and to teach them the Buddhist dharma
in order to protect them from misfortune and to exorcise all evil. The
dancers take on the aspects of wrathful and compassionate deities, heroes,
demons, and animals. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Pema Lingpa were the main
composers of many of the dances. It is believed that merit is gained by
attending this religious festival. The dances invoke the deities to wipe out
misfortunes, increase luck and grant personal wishes. Onlookers rarely fail
to notice the Atsaras or clowns who move through the crowds mimicking the
dancers and performing comic routines in their masks with long red noses. A
group of ladies perform traditional Bhutanese dances during the intervals
between mask dances.
No one should visit Bhutan without going to
a Tsechu. Since most monasteries stage their own Tsechu at different times
of the year to honor Guru Rimpoche, there's a festival almost every week.
Western tourists flock to the larger of these events such as the ones at
Paro, Wangue and Thimphu, and hotels and flights are sold out months in
advance to organized tourist groups. Anyone who wishes to visit Bhutan
during these festivals should plan and make their tour arrangements well in
advance. The dates and duration of the Tsechu festivals vary among
dzongkhags (Districts) but they always fall on or around the 10th day of the
month in the Bhutanese calendar.