The Festivals in Bhutan are very colorful with colorful robes for mask dances and colorful attire with beautiful designs for cultural dances. It is also the social occasion where people will be dressed up in their finest clothes that they have and get chance to be together with friends and families after busy work or harvest. The festival is known as tsechu (meaning 10th day of every month of lunar calendar) which is mainly celebrated as the birthday of Guru Rimpoche (Guru Padmasambhava), however tshechu time differs from place to place and temple to temple.
Tshechu consists of mask dances, cultural dances and other entertainments based on the mythological interpretation and oral history which have been pass down from generations.
Many people gather for the festival to get blessing from the glimpse of mask dances as Buddhist believes that having a glimpse itself of the dances have benefit of getting lot of merits and to remove sins committed.
Buddhist teachings are imparted to the large gathering of the crowd through dramatization in the form of mask dances so that even the lay people can understand. Bhutanese believe in rebirth and karma (deeds) so in the dance of Intermediate state (Bardo) which showcase the life after dead and judgment by the lord of dead and accordingly sent to heaven, different realms or hells according to ones accumulated deeds and sins committed during their lifetimes.
Visit Tshechu and festivals to have in depth understanding of Bhutanese culture and traditions
Schedule during Tshechu
Each day of the four-day festival is set out and generally consists of the following dances.
Thimphu Tsechu festival is held in the capital city for three days on 10 day of the 8th month of lunar calander. It is one of the biggest festivals held in the country. Tshechu is witnessed by thousands of people many of which travel from neighboring Dzongkhags (districts) to attend the festivities. It was intiated by the 4th Druk Desi (secular ruler), Gyalse Tenzin Rabgay in 1867.
The new Dzong in Mongar was built
at the initiative of the third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in 1953. Tshechu in
Mongar is witnessed by people from as far as Trashigang and Lhuentse.
There are numerous Tshechu taking place in this region and they occur at various times in the year.
Nimalung Lhakhang is located in Chumey in Bumthang. The Lhakhang was co-founded by Dasho Gonpo Dorji and Doring Trulku Jamyang Kunzang, the third mind-aspect reincarnation of Terton Jigme Lingpa in 1935.
The main relic of the two-storied temple is a magnificent statue of Guru Rimpoche. The local Tshechu is held once a year in the 5th month of the Bhutanese calendar. During the Tshechu an awe-inspiring Thongdrol (gigantic scroll painting) of Guru Rimpoche is put on display for attendees. The Thongdrol is nine meters long and twelve meters. During the festival, a series of colorful and spectacular mask dances are performed.
This annual gathering of Bhutan’s nomadic highlanders brings together the herders of the northeastern and northwestern Himalayan frontiers in an unforgettable celebration of their unique culture and traditions.
The Nomad festival is held in Bumthang Dzongkhag (district) in central Bhutan the spiritual heartland of the country.
Paro Tshechu is one of the most famous festival where most of the tourist and local people all around the country visits. The Paro Tshechu is held every spring and is one of the most colorful and significant events in Paro Dzongkhag (district).
PEMA GATSHEL TSHECHU
Pema Gatshel Dzongkhag is situated in Eastern Bhutan. The district is known for its numerous festivals and folk songs. Since the construction of the dzong in the early 1980’s, they have also celebrated the annual Tshechu over a three day period. The entire community rejoices together, dressed in their finest clothing whilst enjoying the company of friends and family.
PUNAKHA TSHECHU AND DRUBCHEN
During 17th century Bhutan was invaded several times by Tibetan forces seeking to seize a very precious relic, the Ranjung Kharsapani. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal led the Bhutanese to victory over the Tibetans and to commemorate the triumph he introduced the Punakha Drubchen. The Punakha Drubchen is a unique festival because it hosts a dramatic recreation of the scene from the 17th century battle with Tibetan army. The ‘pazaps’ or local militia men dress in traditional battle gear and reenact the ancient battle scene. This reenactment harkens back to the time when in the absence of a standing army, men from the eight Tshogchens or great village blocks of Thimphu came forward and managed to expel the invading forces from the country. Their victory ushered in a period of new-found internal peace and stability.
In 2005 another festival known as Punakha Tshechu was introduced by the 70th Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra and the then Home Minister His Excellency Lyonpo Jigme Yoedzer Thinley. The Tshechu was introduced in response to the requests made by Punakha District Administration and local people to host a Tshechu in order to better preserve Buddhist teachings and keep alive the noble deeds of Zhabdrung Rimpoche.
The Sakten Tshechu is held for three days each year at the Sakten Lhakhang situated just next to the village. In addition to its religious function the Tshechu provides the Brokpas with an occasion for revelry and merry making. Like all Tshechus in Bhutan, the festival is a time when the entire community can come together for celebrate and engage in worship. The rare Yak dance and the Ache Lhamo dance are performed during this festival. These dances are unique to the Brokpa culture and are quite distinctive from the usual mask dances seen in other parts of the country.
The Takin (Budorcas taxicolor), The festival is set in Gasa Dzongkhag within Jigme Dorji National Park, the second largest national preserve in the country. Despite being a rare and endangered species around the world, there are still thriving populations of this majestic animal in Bhutan.
This festival is held in the capital city for three days beginning on 10th day of the 8th month of lunar calendar. This Tshechu is witnessed by thousands of people many of which travel from neighboring Dzongkhags (districts) to attend the festivities. It was initiated by the 4th Desi, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgay in 1867.
Besides the annual three day Tshechu, Thimphu also celebrates a one day festival known as the Thimphu Dromchoe. The day long festival dates back to the 17th century. It was first introduced by Kuenga Gyeltshen in 1710, who was recognized as the reincarnation of Jampel Dorji, son of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyel. The dromchoe is celebrated 3 days prior to the Thimphu Tshechu.
The Dromchoe showcases the sacred dances dedicated to the chief protective deity of Bhutan, Palden Lhamo. Legend has it, that the deity Pelden Lhamo appeared before Kuenga Gyeltshen and performed the dances while he was in meditation. Based on these dances, Kuenga Gyaltshen initiated the Dromchoe.
Both the first and second kings of Bhutan ruled the country from this ancient seat and it is customary for the crown prince to serve as the Trongsa Penlop (“governor”) prior to ascending the throne.
The dzong built in 1648, is a massive structure with many levels, sloping down the contours of the ridge upon which it is built. This festival brings together people from all walks of life and falls sometime in the month of December.
During the festival a sacred and important relic is put on display so that the people can receive blessings from it. According to legend an old woman sitting outside her house was visited by a lama asking for a drink of water. When she came out with the water, the lama had vanished leaving behind only a sack. Out of curiosity, she checked the bag and found the statue that is now displayed annually. This relic has been passed on from generation to generation and is still owned by the descendants of the woman.
The annual Wangduephodrang Tshechu was introduced by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal after the completion of the dzong. The three-day annual Tshechu is attended by people from Punakha and Thimphu. The Tshechu is known for the Raksha Mangcham or the Dance of the Ox. It concludes with the unfurling of the Guru Tshengye Thongdrol where people throng to receive blessings.
Note: Wangduephodrang Dzongkhag Dzong was burnt to the ground on the 24th of June 2012. Plans are well underway to re-build. After the fire the Tshechu was held at the nearby Tencholing Army ground in Wangduephodrang.
DOCHULA DRUK WANGYEL FESTIVAL
The Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival was established in 2011 in commemoration of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo and the Armed Forces’ victory over Indian insurgent forces residing in southern Bhutan in 2003.The Tshechu is takes place every December 13th at the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang Festival Ground located at Dochula Pass around 22km from the capital city Thimphu.
The Dzong was built in 1651. In the 17th century it was also essential in defending the province as it withstood several Tibetan attacks that were launched from Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh.
Tshechu is held in Trashigang Dzong during the 7th to 11th days of the tenth month of the Bhutanese calendar (December). The Tshechu is attended by the Brokpas, a semi-nomadic people that reside in the valleys of Merak and Sakteng, the Khengpa community and people from as far as Samdrup Jongkhar, Pema Gatshel and Trashiyangtse.
THE BLACK-NECKED CRANE FESTIVAL
The festival is an occasion for the locals to rejoice and celebrate the arrival of this endangered and majestic bird which becomes an inseparable part their daily lives during the winter months.
The annual black-necked crane festival is organized to generate awareness and understanding on the importance of conserving the endangered Black‐necked cranes; to strengthen the linkages between conservation, economic welfare and sustainable livelihoods of the community; provide an avenue for the local community to renew their commitment to conservation of the black-necked cranes, and to showcase their cultural heritage and skills.
Black‐necked cranes in Bhutan and has been protected since time immemorial by the local people’s traditional respect for all living beings. Every year, over 300 of the estimated 500 cranes that migrate to Bhutan spend their winter months in this valley.
CHORTEN KORA FESTIVAL
The Chorten Kora Festival is set in Tashiyangtse. Dakpa Kora is held on the 15th day of the 3rd month corresponding to 28th February and Drukpa Kora is held on the 30th day corresponding to 15th March every year.
The Chorten (Stupa) was built by Lama Ngawang Loday in 1740on the site where a demon was subdued. The chorten was dedicated to the memory of his late uncle, Jungshu Pesan. It is believed to be a replica of the Boudhnath stupa in Nepal and was consecrated by the 13th chief Abbot of Bhutan Je Sherub Wangchuk. Today, it is considered one of the most important historical Buddhist structures.
GOMPHU KORA FESTIVAL
Gomphu means “Meditation Cave” and Kora means “Circumambulation”. The name is derived from a cave formed out of a rock-face next to a temple that has been built as a tribute to this sacred site.
The story of Gomphu Kora goes back to the 8th century AD. Legend has it that an evil spirit named Myongkhapa escaped from Samye in Tibet when Guru Padmasambhava, the progenitor of the Nyingma strand of Buddhism, was spreading the Dharma in the Himalayas. Myongkhapa followed the course of the present-day Kholongchhu stream and concealed himself inside a rock where Gomphu Kora stands today. The Guru followed the evil, mediated for three days inside the rock cave and finally vanquished it.
Several prominent religious personalities have undertaken pilgrimage to Gomphu Kora and the earliest was Gongkhar Gyal, grandson of Lhasay Tsangma. He built a small shrine at Gomphu Kora around the 10th century A.D. In the 14th century, Terton Pema Lingpa, visited Gomphu Kora and enlarged the existing shrine. It was renovated and enlarged in the 15th century by Yongzin Ngagi Wangchuk, the grandfather of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. He also inscribed murals on the walls of the temple.
The biggest attraction of Gomphu Kora is the circumambulation. “Go around Gomphu Kora today for tomorrow may be too late”, advises a local song that entices devotees to visit Gomphu Kora. The place comes alive, once every year from 23rd to 25th, when people all over eastern Bhutan descend upon the narrow valley, dressed in their finery, to partake in the festivity, to worship and to reaffirm their connection with the past.
HAA SUMMER FESTIVAL
Haa summer festival is a lively and uplifting celebration of traditional living-culture, nomadic lifestyles, unique Bhutanese cuisine, traditional sports and religious performances.
JAMBAY LHAKHANG FESTIVAL
Jambay Lhakhang is one of the oldest temples in the kingdom. It was founded by, Songtsen Gampo, a Tibetan King in the 7th century AD. The king was destined to build 108 temples known as Thadhul- Yangdhul (temples on and across the border) in a day to subdue the demoness that was residing in the Himalayas. The temple is one of the two of the 108 built in Bhutan. A second is located in Paro, the Kichu lhakhang also built on the same day.
Legend has it that Guru Rimpoche visited the site several times and deemed it exceptionally sacred. Chakhar Gyab, the king of the Iron Castle of Bumthang renovated the temple in the 8th century AD.
The main relics include the future Buddha, Jowo Jampa (Maitreya) from whose name the present name of the temple is derived. The lhakhang also houses more than one hundred statues of the gods of Kalachakra built by the first king, in 1887.
One of the most spectacular festivals in the country, called Jambay lhakhang Drup is hosted here. The festival lasts for five days. The highlight of the festival is the fire ritual that is held in the evening where crowds gather to witness the ritualistic naked dance.
Kurjey is associated with Sindhu Raja and Guru Rimpoche. Sindhu Raja invited Guru Rimpoche from Nepal to Bhutan to subdue some evil spirits that had been plaguing the land. Upon invitation, Guru Rimpoche visited Bumthang and meditated in a cave that resembled a pile of Dorjis (stylized thunderbolt used for Buddhist rituals). After subduing the evil spirits and demons, imprints of the Guru’s body remained in the rock face. Thereafter, the name came to be known as Kurjey meaning – “Imprint of the body”. The Lhakhang is now a blessed site of great historical significance.
There are three main temples at Kurjey. The oldest temple was constructed on the site where Guru Rimpoche meditated by Minjur Tenpa the first Trongsa Penlop (Governor of Trongsa) in 1652.
The second temple was founded by Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck in 1900 while serving as the 13th Trongsa Penlop. This temple is the most sacred as it was built in the place where Guru Rimpoche left his body imprint.
The third temple was built in the 1990s. It was sponsored by the Queen Mother Ashi Kezang Choden Wangchuck. It houses the images of Guru Rimpoche, King Thrisong Detsen and Pandit Santarakshita.
In front of the temples are Chortens dedicated to the first three kings of Bhutan.
The Kurjey festival is an important occasion not only for the local people of Bumthang but for all Bhutanese.
A small hermitage and a temple was built in 1552 by Ngagi Wangchuk and later enlarged to its present state by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.
Almost every village in Lhuntse boasts of festivals that are unique and distinct from those in other communities in Bhutan. Two notable festivals are the Cha and the Ha festivals. They are celebrated to honor the deities and avert misfortunes. However, the most important festival is the annual three day festival. The Tshechu is normally celebrated in the month of November and draws large numbers of people together for the religious celebrations.
One of the most interesting and visually appealing aspects of these Tshechus is the colourful attire of Kushithara that Lhuentse is famous for.
This festival is scheduled during the 4th weekend of August and takes place in beautiful Ura valley. At the festival, visitors will be learn to identify these fabled mushrooms as they embark on mushroom picking excursions around the pristine forests and hills. They’ll be able to sample delicious Matsutake recipes, engage in songs and dances together with the locals, hike through the stunning Himalayan landscape and even relax in traditional open-air mineral baths.
Merak valley is located in eastern Bhutan within the Trashigang Dzongkhag (district). It is a unique valley inhabited by a semi-nomadic people known as the Brokpas. Situated at a height of 3000 meters, the valley remains untouched by the influence of the outside world.
The Merak Tshechu is an annual three day event at the Merak Lhakhang and provides the Brokpas with some much needed respite from their daily cattle herding routine. Beside the dances that are performed throughout the Dzongs and Lhakhangs, the Brokpas also perform their traditional dances known as Ache Lhamo and the Yak dance. These rare dances are exclusive to the Brokpas and have drawn a lot of visitors to witness the unique spectacle.
Tangbi Mani Festival
Thangbi Lhakhang is one of the historically significant temples in Bumthang. It is situated in the north of Kurje at an altitude of 2730m and is surrounded by the beautiful village of Thangbi. The Lhakhang (temple) was built by the 4th Shamar Rimpoche called Chhoki Drakpa (the Red Hat Karmapa: 1453-1524)Thangbi Mani is a four – day festival which is a display of the rich tradition and celebrates the cultural heritage of this ancient Lhakhang. It is held annually from 14th to 17th of the eighth month of the Bhutanese calendar. The people from the three villages of Thangbi, Goling and Kharsath have been organizing the annual festival since its inception.
The people of Gasa are celebrating their first Tshechu festival nine years after Gasa became a separate dzongkhag. The Gasa rabdey with 45 monks was established in 1998 in the Tashi Thongmoen dzong, coinciding with the silver jubilee celebration of His Majesty’s enthronement. The Tashi Thongmoen dzong was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1649.
Nanlakhar Festival in Bumthang
Bumthang is often called the cultural and religious centre of Bhutan. Nalakhar Tsechu is the good opportunity to glimpse the unique Tsechu being held in the remote rural village of Bhutan (Nalakhar village). People from all over the villages come here to witness the festival dressing in their finest clothes. It is held once in every year. The festival is being celebrated to bring happiness, better harvest and prosperity of the villages and country as a whole.
Nabji Lhakhang Drup Festival
It is celebrated in the beautiful Nabji Village in Trongsa. The festival is held in honour of Guru Rinpoche, the saint who introduced Buddhism in the 8th century and to commemorate the establishment of the Nabji Temple. During the festival the fire blessing ceremony and the Tercham a religious naked dance is held. It is believed that the Tercham can bless the infertile women with children. The variety of Traditional and mask dances each bearing significant importance follows after the main events and all these scared dances are thought to be composed by Terton Pema Lingpa, the great treasure discoverer of the 15th century.