BHUTAN– FAIRS & FESTIVALS IN THE LAND OF THE THUNDER DRAGON
Festivals in Bhutan takes place at different times of the year, regarding to place to place. “Tshechu” known to the localities of Bhutan for festival, comes in a form of religious activities, and the time when people gather, with their best attires. Festivals are celebrated on 10th Day of particular month, so the name “Tshechu” was derived, (“Tshe” means Date and “Chu” means 10).
Festivals are religious events. The ground where they are held is purified and consecrated by lamas, so when you are watching a festival you are, in essence, on the perimeter of an outdoor religious ground. The dancers whether monks or layman, are in a state of meditation. They transform themselves into the deities, which they represent on the dance ground. They generate a spiritual power, which cleanses, purifies, enlightens and blesses the spectators. For the Bhutanese, religious festivals offer an opportunity to become immersed in the meaning of their religion and gain much merit. This is also occasions for seeing people, and for being seen, for social exchanges, and for flaunting success. People bring out their finest clothes, their most beautiful jewelries, and go for picnic with abundant alcohol and meat. Men and women joke and flirt. An atmosphere of convivial, slightly ribald good humor prevails.
Tshechu festivals are celebrated for several days ranging from minimum of three days to five days, according to their location. One would be able to view and witness Bhutanese Focal Dances, religious dance, Mask Dances known as “Chaam”, and other religious dramas and epics of great known saint of Buddhism. These dances are performed by Monks, laymen and few dances by students of RAPA (Royal Academy of Performing Arts).
SOME OF THE IMPORTANT TSECHU ARE AS LISTED BELOW
Punakha Dromache & Tshechu
Five day Puna Drubchen is followed by three-day Punakha Tsechu. Puna Drubchen is an annual festival introduced by Zhabdrung to commemorate the victories over the Tibetans. As for the Punakha Tshechu, it was introduced in 2005, in keeping with Dzong and monastic traditions of Bhutan and upon request of the public. The annual Dromche or drubchen of Punakha is unusual because of its dramatic recreation of a 17th century battle scene, in which the Tibetan armies invade Bhutan to seize Bhutan’s most precious relic, the Ranjung Kharsapani, a self-created image of Chenrizing. At the end of the festival, there is a display of giant Thangkha with images of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal.
Punakha Drubchen therefore celebrates two important events:
- Worship of the guardian deities and presentation of the deities to the public through mask dances performed by the monks.
- Enactment of ancient military scenes by Pazaps.
Paro Tsechu Festival is one of the biggest events in Bhutan. Like other Tsechus, it held to honour Guru Rinpoche, who spread tantric Buddhism that is practiced all over Himalayas (often called Tibetan Buddhism).
This festival usually takes place in March or April each year, depending upon the Bhutanese lunar calendar. It is considered one of the most colorful and most popular festivals of Bhutan. Usually the first day of the festival is held inside the courtyard of the Dzong and on the final day (before dawn), a gaint Thangka or Thongdol, an silk allique of Guru Rinpoche is displayed.
Festival participants don ornamental dress and elaborate costumes that are worn just once a year. Other highlights of the Paro Festival include the Thongdrel on the last day. “Thongdrel means liberation upon sight, seeing one is enough to bring the faithful into an enlightened state.”
Wangdue Tsechu is held inside Wangdiphodrang Dzong. It is a three day event of mask dances and folk dances and on the final day, huge thangka is display.
Thimphu Tsechu Festival is preceded by three-day Dromchoe, (which is only open to Bhutanese). Like most festival, this four day Thimphu Tsechu festival is held to honour Guru Rinpoche, who in 8th century contributed to diffusion of Tantric Buddhism, in whole of the Himalayan regions. It is held from 9th till 11th of the 8th month of Bhutanese calendar in autumn. Download the PDF document for day by day program, details/description of dances and their significance.
Thimphu Drupchen or Drubchen (popularly known as Thimphu Dromchoey) is performed at the Thimphu Tashichhodzong. The sacred masked dance is dedicated to appeasing the protecting deity of Bhutan, Pelden Lhamo. The dance ceremony was instituted between 1705 and 1709 by Kuenga Gyaltshen, the first reincarnation of Jampel Dorji, 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 dance ceremony. Thimphu Drubchen is a 5 day event preceding the popular 3 day Thimphu Tsechu festival. Because it is mainly to appease the protecting deities, it is considered more sacred and was not open for tourists until recently. Photographing may be prohibited during the Drubchen.
The Coordinating committee of the annual Thimphu Drubchen and Tsechu has issued the following decorum for tourist attending the event in 2010:
- Not to place filming equipment in front of the crowd, obstructing public view
- Approvals from the Department of Culture and BICMA has to be sought for Filming & photography in Kuenrey and the Dukhang
- Pay and use toilet facility is available inside the Dzong.
- The Ministry of Health will have a clinic set up with ambulance outside the Dzong in case of any emergencies.
Trongsa Tsechu is held inside Trongsa Dzong. Trongsa Tsechu is one the oldest Tsechu in Bhutan. It is believed the Tsechus in Bhutan was spread from Trongsa. Most of the Champoen or the mask dance teachers, learned in Trongsa. On the last day of the Trongsa Tsechu, giant Thongdrel or Thangkha is unfurled.
It is mostly seen that even the tourist make their trip plans according to the popular Indian fairs and festivals.
“THE ABOVE FESTIVALS CAN BE COMBINED WITH ANY OF OUR BHUTAN ITINERARIES AS PER YOUR CHOICE AND DATES OF TRAVEL”
LADAKH – FAIRS & FESTIVALS IN LITTLE TIBET
India is globally well known as a land of vivacious celebration. The best time to experience the culture and life of India is during fairs and festivals. All the festivals are celebrated with high spirit and enthusiasm in each and every town. Behind each fair and festival there is a noble reason based upon rituals, legends, traditions, history, while many shows devotion towards the deities of various religions. When talking about tourism these fairs and festivals capture the attraction of all people.
In Ladakh every occasion marriage, birth, harvesting, commemoration of head Lamas founding of the monastery, Losar (new year) and flowering is marked by feasting, dancing and the singing of folksongs that forms a part of its living heritage. Most of the festivals are held in winter but some popular festival take place in summer too. The monastic festivals are the heart of all the festivals. They are performed by Monks wearing colorful silk garments and different facial mask.
The core event of the monastic festival is a highly choreographed ritual dance-drama known as ‘Chhams’, which is directed by the ‘Chham-spon’, the mystic dance master of the monastery. The dances are performed not only to dramatise the esoteric philosophy of the event, for the benefit of the lay devotees, but also by way of ritual offerings to the tutelary deities of the monastery and the guardians of the faith.
A select group of resident lamas of the monastery, dressed in brightly patterned brocade, robes, perform these dances in the courtyard of the monastery. They also wear masks representing various divinities, which are mostly found in the form of statues in the “GonKhang”, the room dedicated to the guardian divinities. Some of the dances also feature masks representing famous characters from historical episodes or Tibetan fables. They also wear masks representing various divinities and religious or historical characters.
The monastic festivals also provide the local people an opportunity for socialising, trading and entertainment. On this occasion, makeshift markets spring up overnight near the monastery, to which people throng. During the summer festivals, the visiting people organise picnics, overnight excursions, and all-night singing and dancing parties. For the more devoted villagers, however, the event is essentially a pilgrimage to the monastery and its various temples, for it is during this period only that they can see all the images and figures, which are otherwise kept.
SOME OF THE IMPORTANT FESTIVALS ARE AS LISTED BELOW
Hemis festival is one of the most famous monastic festivals in June to commemorate birth of Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. The sacred dance drama of the life and mission is performed wearing facial masks and colorful brocades robes. The three-day festival takes place from 9th to 11th, especially the monkey year festival, which comes in a cycle of 12 years. During it the four-storey thanka of Guru Padma Sambhava is hung in the courtyard and other precious thankas are also exhibited.
Thiksey, Karsha and Spituk Gustor
Gustors take place at Thiksey, Spituk and Karsha in different months of the year. The festival takes place for two days. The celebration is to mark the victory over evils. The mask worn by the dancers represent the Guardians, Protectors and the Gods and Goddesses. The festival ends with the symbolic assassination of evils and burning of the effigy of evils.
Dosmochey is celebrated in Leh (Leh Palace), Liker (Lower Ladakh) and Deskit (Nubra valley) monasteries in February. The most famous among all is Leh Dosmochey, which is celebrated for two days in the courtyards of the Leh palace. The monks from different monasteries perform the Chams every year turn by turn. The festival takes place in the end and starting of the Tibetan New Year. The monks of Takthok monastery prepares the offering with Thread crosses which binds all the evil, hungry ghosts and guard against natural disaster in the coming year. On the second day of the festival, the offerings are taken out of the town in a procession and burn it while people whistle to chase away the evil spirits.
Matho Nagrang is celebrated on the 15th day of the 1st month of Tibetan calander, at Matho monastery, the only monastery of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism. During these two days of festival mask dances are performed by monks of the monastery wearing colorful silk brocaded robes and mask in different forms of God and Goddesses. The festival is famous because of appearance of the two oracles during the festival after full month meditation in complete isolation. The two oracles appear in the courtyard accompanying mask dancers and predict future events and people from far and away come to seek advice to perform ritual to tackle with disasters.
Stok Guru Tsechu
The monks of Stok and Spituk monasteries also celebrate Stok Gruru Tsechu for two days with mask dances performed. It is also held in Feb. around a week before the Matho Nagrang. During the festival two oracle appears, but they are laymen from the same village prepared by monks to receive the spirit of the deities.
Phyang Tsedup takes place in July / August. Like other monasteries, monks wearing colorful brocade robes and Mask in the form of different god and goddesses perform mask dances. The huge thanka of Skyoba Giksten Gonbo is hung in the courtyard during the festival.
The 2-day festival takes place in July in Lamayuru monastery around 125 kms from Leh. Monks like other monastic festival perform mask dances. During the festival monks perform prayer and rituals to get rid of disaster and peace in the world.
The Losar (New Year) celebration is followed by Galdan Namchot, the birth anniversary of Tsogkha pa who introduced Gelukpa School of order. During Namchot people illuminate their houses, monasteries and mountains and make offerings in the houses and monasteries.
The Losar festival is celebrated in the eleventh month of Tibetan calendar, two months ahead of Tibetan New Year. In early 17th century, King Jamyang Namgyal decided to lead an expedition against the Baltistan forces in winter; therefore he decided to celebrate the festival two months before. Later it became a tradition and being celebrated in the eleventh month.
The festival lasts for around a month, during which Gods, deities, ancestors and even the animals are fed without fail. Images of Ibex are made as auspicious symbol; walls of the kitchens are dotted and are believed to bring prosperity in coming year. The Metho (procession of fire) is thrown out chanting slogans and chasing hungry ghosts and evil spirits, and they return with rocks of ice as auspicious symbol and these are kept in the store. In some villages there is a tradition of making Old men and women, from this snow which last for a week. Over all the Losar all children and young and olds enjoy and celebrate the festival. All family members get together to celebrate if someone missing will have their cups filled with tea by their name.
Ladakh festival takes place in September 1-15 every year in Leh and villages. The inauguration ceremony takes place in Leh on large scale with the procession of various cultural troupes from different part of Ladakh. It passes through Leh Market dancing, singing with traditional music, in colorful traditional Ladakhi dresses, and finishes at Polo ground after performing their best dances and songs. The festival last for 15 days with regular program in different villages. The program includes Archery, Polo, and Mask Dances from the monasteries, traditional dances by cultural troupes from Villages. There are series of musical concert and dance program in Leh town.
Sindhu Darshan (Visit Indus) Festival Sindhu Darshan is three-day festival held from 1st to 3rd June, in Shey Manla around 8 kms from Leh on the bank of Indus River. For the first time it was organized in October 1997, as a symbol of unity and Communal harmony and national integration. Whilst promoting domestic tourism in Ladakh. It is also a symbolic salute to brave soldiers of India who have been fighting not only with enemies in the in the human form but also in the form of nature.
During this festival artists from different parts of the country perform traditional dances and people from all religions, castes and regions participate.
It is mostly seen that even the tourist make their trip plans according to the popular Bhutanese fairs and festivals.
“THE ABOVE FESTIVALS CAN BE COMBINED WITH ANY OF OUR LADAKH ITINERARIES AS PER YOUR CHOICE AND DATES OF TRAVEL”