FESTIVAL IN BHUTAN
Article by Anonymous
Festivals or Tshechus are important events celebrated throughout Bhutan. The term "Tshechu" literally translates into 10th day of the Bhutanese Lunar calendar which is considered auspicious. During these Tshechus, Chaams (religious dance) are performed either by the monks or the lay people. Besides religious dancers and singers, there are also atsaras (Clowns) who usually wear masks with big red noses.To most, Atsaras are the soul of Tshechu or festival. They joke and yet they are the ones who maintain order. People also believe that they are religious teachers.
Tshechu is a very colourful event where people dress in their best clothes and jewellery, eat, socialize, and make merry. More importantly, because it is a religious festival, people go to Tshechus to gain merits. Most dzongs have an annual Tshechu with a series of traditional and colourful dances performed by trained dancers and monks. There are also secular festivals like the birth anniversaries of the kings, national day celebration, etc., where people gather in their colourful national dress and witness the dances dedicated to the particular day of celebration. It is believed that everyone must attend a Tshechu and witness the mask dances at least once in order to receive blessings and wash away their sins. Every mask dance performed during a Tshechu has a special meaning or a story behind it and many are based on stories and incidents from as long as the 8th century, during the life of Guru Padmasambhava. In monasteries the mask dances are performed by monks and in remote villages they are performed jointly by monks and village men.
One of the biggest festivals in the country is the Thimphu Tshechu. 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 whom travel from neighbouring Dzongkhags (districts) to attend the festivities. The actual Tshechu is preceded by days and nights of prayer and rituals to invoke the gods.
When it was initiated by the 4th Desi, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgay in 1867 the Tshechu consisted of only a few dances being performed strictly by monks. These were the Zhana Chham and the Zhana Nga Chham (Dances of the 21 Black Hats), Durdag (Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Ground), and the Tungam chham (Dance of the Terrifying Deities).
The Thimphu Tshechu underwent a change in the 1950s, when the third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, introduced numerous Boed Chhams (mask dances performed by lay monks). These additions added colour and variation to the festival without compromising its spiritual significance. Mask dances like the Guru Tshengye (Eight Manifestations of Guru), Shaw Shachi (Dance of the Stags) are enjoyed because they are similar to stage-theater.
Equally important are the Atsaras, who are more than just mere clowns. The Atsaras are the dupthobs (acharyas), who provide protection. Short skits where the Atsaras perform dances and jesting are meant to disseminate health and social awareness messages.
To farmers, the Tshechu is also seen as a break from farm life. It is an occasion to celebrate, receive blessings and pray for health and happiness.