5 Amazing Festivals In Bhutan

Bhutanese festivals, or “tshechu” as they are locally known, play an important role in Bhutanese culture and history. They often perform historical events and are an opportunity for people to socialize, wear their best gho (men’s robes) and kira (women’s attire), cleanse their negative karma, and receive blessings.

For older adults, the holidays represent an opportunity to begin preparing for the afterlife. Animals are believed to be the courtiers of the Lord of Death, so locals believe that if the elders can identify the animal worn by the masked dancer, it will guide them on the right path in the afterlife.

Bhutan’s biggest and most popular festival is held in spring, on the tenth day of the second month of the Bhutanese lunar calendar (March 24-28, 2021). The history of Paro Tshechu dates back to 1644, when after the construction of the magnificent Paro Dzong (where the festival takes place), a grand celebration begins with mask dances, music and traditional songs.

Today, the festival commemorates Guru Rinpoche who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan. On the fifth and final day, the puja begins with the unfolding of Guru Rinpoche’s thangka (an embroidery seen at all pujas) on the dzong wall. It is believed that just seeing this sacred artwork can wash away one’s sins. After unfolding the thangka, there is also a spectacular masked dance, recreating the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche.

These two festivals are also held in March and represent the spiritual and historical importance of Bhutanese festivals. Punakha Drubchen dates back to the 17th century and celebrates Bhutan’s victory over the invading Tibetan army. The Buddhist saint Xia Zhong Ngawang Namgyal led the country to victory. During the event, battle stories are told through dances and reenactments.

Beginning immediately after Punakha Drubchen, Punakha Tshechu was introduced in 2005 in honor of Guru Rinpoche. The highlight of the event is the display of thangkas of Guru Rinpoche to purify the sins of bystanders. It happened at the Punakha Dzong.

The Bumthang region of Bhutan has played an important role in the country’s spiritual development, as it was from here that Guru Rinpoche spread Buddhism across the country. Kurjey Tshechu is a one-day festival held in June at Kurjey Lhakhang, one of Bhutan’s holiest temples. The temple complex consists of three temples, one of which has a cave with the imprint of Guru Rinpoche’s Dharma body inside.

People from all over the country take part in Kurjey Tshechu to pay homage to and receive blessings from Guru Rinpoche. Like other festivals, monks perform important dances such as Guru Tshengye and Shinjay cham. The festival ends with the unfolding of a large thangka displaying the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche.

Nimalung Tshechu is another festival held before Kurjey Tshechu. More local, with fewer crowds, it lasts three days and takes place in the nearby village of Chumey.

One of Bhutan’s biggest autumn festivals is Tshechu, the capital city of Thimphu. It takes place in September in the courtyard of the mighty Tashichho Dzong monastery and lasts three days – though it is performed through days and nights of prayer and ritual. Gyalshe Tenzin Rabgyal, Bhutan’s fourth secular ruler, established the festival in 1670 to commemorate the birth of Guru Rinpoche.

As with all Bhutanese festivals, exciting, energetic dancing dominates the event. These include the ever-present Guru Zengje (eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche), Sava Shaki (deer dance), the dance of the terrifying yidam, and the dance of the king of the crematorium.

Jambay Lhakhang Drup, held around October or November each year, is probably Bhutan’s most glamorous and spectacular festival. It takes place at one of the oldest and holiest temples in Bhutan, Jambay Lhakhang, next to the Bumthang Chhu River in the Bumthang Valley.

According to legend, in the 7th century AD, King Songtsan Gampo of Tibet built 108 temples a day in order to defeat the witch lying on the Himalayas. The shrine suppressed her forever to rid the area of ​​evil. Jambay Lhakhang, one of those 108 temples, holds the left knee of the witch.

Jambay Lhakhang Drup is held annually to celebrate the completion of the temple, and like all other festivals, it honors Guru Rinpoche. Different dances are performed during the five-day festival, but two of the most sacred and eye-opening are the Tercham, or nude dance, and the Mewang, a fire dance that blesses infertile women with the hope that they will have future children.

At midnight, 16 men danced naked around the temple. It is believed that in the 8th century, a group of locals performed this dance to charm and harmless the devils who wreaked havoc in the area.

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