Tshechu

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Left: Dance of the Black Hats with Drums. Right: Paro Tsechu festival of dances

Tshechu Dzongkhaཚེས་བཅུ། (literally "day ten") are annual religious Bhutanese festivals held in each district or dzongkhag of Bhutan on the tenth day of a month of the lunar Tibetan calendar. The month depends on the place. Tsechus are religious festivals of Drukpa Buddhism. The Thimphu tsechu and tha Paro tshechu are among the biggest of the tshechus in terms of participation and audience. Tsechus are large social gatherings, which perform the function of social bonding among people of remote and spread-out villages. Large markets also congregate at the fair locations, leading to brisk commerce.[1]

Tshechu traditions[edit]

The focal point of the tshechus are the sacred Cham Dances, which are banned in neighbouring Tibet.[citation needed] These costumed, masked dances typically are moral vignettes, or based on incidents from the life of the 9th century Nyingmapa teacher Padmasambhava and other saints.[1]

Most tshechus also feature the unfurling of a thongdrel (or thangka) - a large tapestry typically depicting a seated Guru Rinpoche surrounded by holy beings, the mere viewing of which is said to cleanse the viewer of sin. The thongdrel is raised before dawn and rolled down by morning.

Because tshechus depend on the availability of masked dancers, registered dancers are subject to fine if they refuse to perform during festivals.[2]

History of Tshechus[edit]

Masked dancers at the Phodrang tshechu

Padmasambhava, the great Nyingmapa scholar, visited Tibet and Bhutan in the 8th century and 9th century. He used to convert opponents of Buddhism by performing rites, reciting mantras and finally performing a dance of subjugation to conquer local spirits and gods. He visited Bhutan to aid the dying king Sindhu Raja. Padmasambhava performed a series of such dances in the Bumthang valley to restore the health of the king. The grateful king helped spread Buddhism in Bhutan. Padmasambhava organized the first tsechu in Bumthang, where the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava being the human form) were presented through eight forms of dances. These became the Chams depicting the glory of Padmasambhava.

Schedule[edit]

Thongdrel unfolded at the Gomkora Tshechu 2013

The dance schedule for each day of the four-day festival is set out and generally consists of the following dances.

  • On the first day, the performances cover: Dance of the Four Stags (Sha Tsam); Dance of the Three kinds of Ging (Pelage Gingsum); Dance of the Heroes (Pacham), Dance of the Stags and Hounds (Shawo Shachi) and Dance with Guitar (Dranyeo Cham)
  • On the second day the dances performed are: The Black Hat Dance (Shana), Dance of the 21 black hats with drums (Sha nga ngacham), Dance of the Noblemen and the Ladies (Pholeg Moleg), Dance of the Drums from Dramitse (Dramitse Ngacham), Dance of the Noblemen and the Ladies (Pholeg Moleg) and Dance of the Stag and Hounds (Shawa Shachi)
  • On the third day, the dances performed are: Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds (Durdag), Dance of the Terrifying Deities (Tungam) and Dance of the Rakshas and the Judgement of the Dead (Ragsha Mangcham)
  • On the last day of the festival, the dances performed cover: Dance of Tamshing in Bumthang, Dance of the Lords of the Cremation grounds (the same dance as day 3), Dance of the Ging and Tsoling (Ging Dang Tsoling) and Dance of the Eight Manifestations of Guru Rinpoche (Guru Tshen Gye).

The last day of the four-day festival also marks the unfurling of the Thongdrel, a very large scroll painting or thangka, which is unfurled with intense religious fervour, early in the morning. This painting measuring 30 metres (98 ft)×45 metres (148 ft) has the images of Padmasambhava at the centre flanked by his two consorts and also his eight incarnations. Devotees who gather to witness this occasion offer obeisance in front of the Thongdrel seeking blessings. Folk dances are performed on the occasion. Before sunrise, the painting is rolled up and kept in the Dzong before it is displayed again one year later.[3]

List of tshechus[edit]

Below is a list of major tshechus in Bhutan, along with their 2011 dates. Dates in other years will vary.

Bhutan tshechu dates (2011)[4]
Date Tsechu Location
January 02–04 Trongsa Tshechu Trongsa
January 02–04 Lhuntse Tshechu Lhuntse
January 02–04 Pemagatshel Tshechu Pemagatshel
January 09 Shingkhar Metochodpa Bumthang
January 09–13 Nabji Lhakhang Drup Trongsa
February 10–15 Punakha Dromache & Tshechu Punakha
February 17–21 Tangsibi Mani Bumthang
February 18 Chorten Kora Trashiyangtse
February 18 Tharpaling Thongdrol Bumthang
February 19–21 Buli Mani Chumey Bumthang
February–March
(1st month, 7th day)
Trashiyangtse Tsechu Trashiyangtse
March 04 Chorten Kora (2nd) Trashiyangtse
March 13–15 Gomkora Trashigang
March 13–15 Talo Tshechu Talo, Punakha
March 13–16 Zhemgang Tshechu Zhemgang
March 15–19 Paro Tshechu Paro
March 17–19 Chhukha Tshechu Chukha
April 01–03 Gaden Chodpa Ura, Bumthang
May 12–14 Domkhar Festival Chhume, Bumthang
May 14–18 Ura Yakchoe Ura, Bumthang
June 19–21 Padsel–Ling Kuchod Bumthang
June Laya Bumkhosa Festival (Bongkor) Laya
July 08–10 Nimalung Tshechu Bumthang
July 09–10
does not move
Alpine Ha, Haa
July 10 Kurjey Tshechu Bumthang
July 29 Gangte Kurim Gangte, Wangdue Phodrang
October 01–05 Thimphu Drupchen Thimphu
October 04–06 Wangdue Tshechu Wangdue Phodrang
October 04–06 Gangte Drubchen & Tshechu Gangte, Wangdue Phodrang
October 06–08 Tamshingphala Choepa Bumthang
October 06–08 Gasa Tshechu District Gasa
October 06–08 Thimphu Tshechu Thimphu
October 10–12 Thangbi Mani Bumthang
November 01–05 Shingkhar Rabney Ura, Bumthang
November 03–06 Jakar Tshechu Jakar, Bumthang
November 10–14 Jambay Lakhang Drup Bumthang
November 11–13 Prakhar Duchoed Bumthang
November 12
does not move
Black Necked Crane Festival Gangte, Wangdue Phodrang
November 22–25 Sumdrang Kangsol Ura, Bumthang
December 02–05 Trashigang Tshechu Trashigang
December 02–05 Mongar Tshechu Mongar
December 03–04 Tang Namkha Rabney Tang Bumthang
December 10 Singye Cham, Jambay Lhakhang Bumthang
December 10–12 Nalakhar Tshechu Bumthang
December 10–13 Chojam Rabney Tang Bumthang

In popular culture[edit]

The Bhutanese film Travellers and Magicians is set among a group of travellers, most of whom are going to the Thimphu tshechu.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Dancing on the demon's back: the dramnyen dance and song of Bhutan, by Elaine Dobson, John Blacking Symposium: Music Culture and Society, Callaway Centre, University of Western Australia, July 2003
  2. ^ Namgyal, Gembo (2010-10-28). "Reluctant Mask Dancers". Bhutan Observer online. Retrieved 2012-01-28. 
  3. ^ Palin, pp. 269–270
  4. ^ "Festival Dates". Windhorse Tours, Treks & Expeditions online. Retrieved 2011-07-26.