Festivals in Bhutan
One of the highlights of a visit to Bhutan is experiencing a Tshechu, a Buddhist
festival. In most villages the local monastery organizes a yearly festival with
religious and folkloric music and there is often a market with food stalls,
shops and other activities.
Most Tshechu are organized in honor of Guru Rinpoche (also known as
Padmasambhava). This Indian saint spread Tantric Buddhism across the Himalayas
and Bhutan. He is the founder of the Nyingmapa movement within Tibetan
The Tshechu are festivals that normally take place around the 10th day of the
month according to the Bhutanese calendar. They commemorate different episodes
from the life of Guru Rinpoche. During a Tshechu there is dancing performed by
both monks and civilians. Attending a Tshechu is not only good for your karma,
but also an annual social event. The population of the surrounding area,
dressed in their Sunday best, come together to celebrate.
Besides the monastery festivals there are also lesser-known village festivals,
which are often smaller, but still very attractive.
Below is the program of the Tshechu in the capital of Thimpu. Similar dances
are also performed elsewhere.
Dance 1: Shacham. This Dance of Four Deer depicts the victory of Guru Rinpoche
over the evil Wind King. The dancers wear knee-length skirts and deer masks.
Dance 2: Peling Went Sum, the Dance of the Three Kings of Ging. These three
kings are all manifestations of Guru Rinpoche. This dance symbolizes the
victory of good over evil. The dancers carry sticks and swords and wear knee-length
skirts and masks of animals or demons.
Dance 3: Pacham, the Dance of the Heroes. This dance depicts the leadership of
Guru Rinpoche. The dancers wear yellow skirts, gold crowns and no masks.
Dance 4: Shawo Shachi, the Dance of the Deer and the Dogs. The dance portrays
compassion for all living beings through Milarepa which brings harmony between
the deer (prey) and the dog (the predator). The dancers wear masks of dogs and
Dance 5: Dramyin Cham, the Dance of the Guitar. The leader carries a
traditional guitar called a dramyin, and the dancers wear elaborate woolen robes
with traditional felt boots, a yellow shirt, brown coat, sword and hat.
Dance 1: Zshana, the Dance of the 21 Black Hats. The “Black Hat Dancers”
represent yogis who have the power to both give life and take it away. The
dancers wear large black hats, felt boots and colorful brocade robes.
Dance 2: Zshana Nga Cham, the Dance of the 21 Black Hats with Drums. This is a
victory dance after the destruction of evil.
Dance 3: Kyecham, the Dance of the Devotees. This dance portrays King Norzang
and his armed companions during a holy war. The dancers wear yellow skirts,
animal masks and carry a sword in their right hand.
Dance 4: Phole Mole, the Dance of the Nobles, is based on a legend about King
Dance 5: Dramitse Ngacham. 16 drummers perform the Dramitse dance that
illustrates a vision of the nun Chorten Zhangmo from the 15th century in which
the followers of Guru Rinpoche saw a dance. The dancers wear yellow skirts,
different animal masks and carry drums.
Dance 6: Shawo Shachi, the Dance of the Deer and the Dog (see day 1, dance 4)
Dance 1: Durdag, the Dance Masters of the Cremation Grounds. This illustrates
how the masters of the cremation grounds overcome the demonic powers with their
oath to the tantric doctrine. The dancers wear a white suit, white boots and
white skull masks.
Dance 2: Tungam, the Dance of the Terrible Gods. This dance shows how Guru
Rinpoche overcame enemies of Buddhism with the evil "Thunderbolt." He
wages war against evil forces and liberates men into a blissful state. The dancers
wear beautiful brocade robes, boots, and terrifying masks.
Dance 3: Raksha Mangcham, the Rakshas and the Condemnation of Death Dance. The
Rakshas are the helpers of the God of Death, Shinje. This dance dramatizes how
people are convicted in the presence of the God of Death.
Dance 1: Bumthang Ter Ham, a folk dance from Bumthang Tamshing. The dancers
wear yellow skirts, white masks, and carry a bell and drum.
Dance 2: Durdag, the Dance Masters of the Cremation Grounds. (See day 3, dance
Dance 3: Ging Dang Tsholing, the Dance of the Ging and the Tsholing. This dance
depicts the paradise of Ugyen Rinpoche, the Zangtoepelri, where all the
incarnations of Ugyen Rinpoche are sent. The Tsholing wear long colorful robes
and the Ging wear tiger skins.
Dance 4: Guru Tshen Gye, the Dance of the Eight Manifestations of Guru
Rinpoche. During this dance Ugyen Rinpoche receives the blessings of mind,
speech and body.
Dance 5: Rigma Chudrug, the Dance of the 16 Fairies. These fairies are manifestations
of the same person. They are goddesses of the sacrifices that have been divided
into 4 categories. Each category is further divided into 4, giving a total of
16. The dance is meant to bring happiness to people who believe in the
manifestations of Ugyen Rinpoche.
Dance 6: Other religious and folk dances
You will also find festivals in Sikkim, but far fewer than in Bhutan.
festival experience in Sikkim is therefore a unique event. Unfortunately, the
dates of the festivals are often announced at the last minute and it is
difficult to plan to include one in your trip.