There is no better highlight during a visit to Bhutan than attending tshechu. The word “tshechu” literally means “an annual religious Bhutanese festival” and are held in each district on the 10th day of a month of the Bhutanese calendar. The dates and duration of the tshechu vary from one district to another, but always take place on or around the 10th day of a month—worth noting when planning your trip. Festivals are mostly held in the dzong (fortress) or local monastery in honor of Guru Rimpoche, one "who was born from a lotus flower" and brought the tantric Buddhism in Bhutan in the 8th century.
A selection of festivals in Bhutan are described below.
Thimphu Drubchen and Tshechu (September)
One of the biggest festivities celebrated in the capital city, Thimphu, for four days from the 10th day of the 8th month of every lunar year. The Tshechu begins with Lhamoi Drupchen, a rite dedicated to the protecting deity of Bhutan, Pelden Lhamo. Pelden Lhamo as the name translates; Glorious Goddess is the only female dharma protector and one of the three main protecting deities of Bhutan. The actual Tshechu begins the next day in the large courtyard at the Tashichhodzong for following three days whereby various mask dances both in the form of peaceful and wrathful figures are displayed to commemorate the anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava and for the well-being of those who attend the festival.
Paro Tsechu (March/April)
The climax of the Paro Tsechu is the unfurling of the world’s biggest Thangka of Guru Padmasambhava, a large tapestry, of Guru Padmasambhava followed by dance of the Lord of Death (Shingje) and his consort, dance of the black hats (Shanag), dance of the drum (Drametse Ngacham), dance of the eight kind of spirits (De gye mang cham), and other traditional songs and dances.
Punakha Drubchen & Tshechu (February/March)
The Punakha Drubchen is introduced by Zhabdrung to commemorate the victories over the Tibetans. It is unique in presentation, Pazaps (local militia men) dressed in battle gear showcase a battle scene from the past when in the absence of army, men from eight village blocks of Thimphu came to drive out Tibetan forces out of Bhutan bringing peace and stability in the country. The Punakha Tshechu however is a recent phenomenon. It was instituted only in 2005 by the present Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra and present Prime Minister Lyonpo Jigme Yoedzer Thinley as an initiative to keep alive the noble deeds of Zhabdrung Rimpoche and further in dedication to two man protective deities of Bhutan (Yeshey Gampo and Pelden Lhamo). Although introduced recently, Punakha Tshechu is unique with fine integration of history and religion. The magnificent and one of the largest Thongdrel (Tapestry) depicting Gurus around the central figure of Zhabdrung together with the spiritual leaders stand testimony to it.
Wangdiphodrang Tshechu (September/October)
Similar to Punakha Tshechu, the annual Wangdiphodrang Tshechu was also instituted by Zhabdrung in the 1600’s. It is a three day Tshechu starting from 10th day of every eighth lunar month. The highlight of this Tshechu is the Raksha Mangcham (dance of the Ox) and unfurling of old Guru Tshengye Thongdrel (tapestry of Gurus eight manifestation).
Trashigang Tshechu (November)
Bhutan Festivals are a must if you're hoping to catch an authentic glimpse of Bhutanese culture and Buddhist faith.Trashigang Tshechu is the only Tshechu performed in the winter months from 7th to 11th of the 10th lunar month every year. Since, it is the largest district in the country and the home of the Tsanglas, the aboriginal inhabitant of the district, people from all community: Brokpas, a semi-nomadic community from Merak Sakteng, Khengpa from Zhemgang, and people from as far as Samdrup Jongkhar and Pema Gatshel attend the Tshechu. It is an excellent opportunity to mingle with people from different community of eastern Bhutan.
The unfurling of Neten Chudrung (Sixteen Arhats) Thongdrel on the 5th day and old thongdrel of Guru Tshengye (eight manifestations of Guru Padmasambhava) on the final day is the main connotation of this Tshechu.
Black Necked Crane Festival (November)
Bhutanese believe the rare cranes are sacred Boddhisatvas and monks pray for their return each year from Tibet. Their safe arrival into the beautiful Phobjika Valley celebrated and an annual festival held at the Gangtey monastery.
The local monks perform dances to themes related to the cranes and a highlight of the festival are delightful dances by local children dressed in crane costumes and the monastery is ideally located above the valley on the Phobjika Nature Reserve where hundreds cranes spend the winter. This is one of our favorite festivals, for the cranes, but also the low-ket atmosphere of this smaller, less venerated Tsechus. The smaller crowds allow for up close watching of the ceremonies and better chances for photography.
Chorten Kora Tshechu (February/March)
Chorten Kora is a monastery located in one of the sub-districts of Trashiyangtse which is two hours’ drive east of Trashigang. It is one of the most significant Buddhist structure build in replica of the Boudhnath stupa of Nepal in 1740 by Lama Ngawang Loday in memory of his late uncle and also to subdue a demon that lived where the chorten stands today. Myth has it that on the 15th day of the first Bhutanese month, a young girl from Tawang, believed to have been a Khando (Dakini) agreed to be buried alive as the nangten of the Chorten. For this reason a ritual known as Dakpa Kora is organized every year on the 15th day of the 3rd lunar month where hundreds of people from Arunachal Pradesh known as the Dakpas make it to Chorten Kora to circumambulate.
Gomphu Kora Tshechu
Gomphu Kora monastery is also located in Trashiyangtse, two hours drive east of Trashigang. Gomphu in local language translates to “Meditation Cave” and Kora to “Circumambulation”. It got its name Gomphu Kora from a cave formed out of a rock-face next to a temple that has been built as a tribute to this sacred site. Legend has it that in the 8th century an evil non-human spirit named Myongkhapa escaped from Samye in Tibet when Guru Padmasambhava, the great Nyingmapa scholar (the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism) was spreading the Dharma in the Himalayas. Myongkhapa followed the course of the present-day Kholongchhu stream and hide himself inside a rock where Gomphu Kora stands today. The Guru followed the evil to the cave, mediated there for three days and finally subdued it. The sacredness of this Tshechu is in its circumambulation for there is even a local saying “Go around Gomphu Kora today for tomorrow may be too late”. The gaiety of the Tshechu is amplified further with people coming from all over the region and as far as Arunachal Pradesh in India as prophesied by Guru Padmasambhava eons back.
Merak & Sakten Tshechu
Merak and Sakten valley located in the eastern most part of Bhutan in Trashigang plays home to the semi-nomadic people of Bhutan known as Brokpas in local language. Situated at the height of 3000 meters, these two valleys still remain isolated from the influence of outside world. They earn their livelihood by rearing Yak and sheep and exchanging its by-product with rice and other necessities with the people residing in the lower altitude. Their lifestyle and culture is equally unique where women polygamy is an accepted norm. In fact it is a common norm amongst the Brokpa women to marry all the brothers in a family. Merak Tshechu and Sakten Tshechu are celebrated differently at Merak Lhakhang and Sakten Lhagang respectively. However, both the tshechus provide the brokpas with the much needed respite from their daily chores at the mountains to come together and commemorate their local deity. The tshechus also show case exclusive Yak dances and other brokpa dances attracting increasing number of visitors every year.
Lhuentse is one of the remotest and economically poorest districts in Bhutan, nevertheless with a rich history and local culture. People from Lhuentshe are referred to as Kurtoeps in local language and every kurtoeps boasts of their region as birthplace of the present Monarchs and Kushithara (beautiful design of the attire worn by Bhutanese women). Some notable festivals held in Lhuentse are the Cha and the Haa festivals that are celebrated annually to pay respect to the deities and to remove misfortunes. The Tshechu is normally celebrated in the month of November and it’s a great opportunity to receive blessings from some of the important relics that are rarely publicly displayed.
Jampa Lhakhang Tshechu (January)
Jampa lhakhang is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan located in Bumthang en route to Kurjie Lhakhang. It was founded by, Songtsen Gampo, a Tibetan King in the 7th century AD who according to legend was destined to build 108 temples on and across the border of Tibet in one day to subdue the demoness that was residing in the Himalayas. Jampa lhakhang in Bumthang and Kyichu lhakhang in Paro are the two out of 108 temples built in Bhutan. It also hosts the Dus Kyi Khorlo (Kala Chakra- Wheel of Time) built on the command of first king, Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck to commemorate his victory over his rivals Phuntsho Dorji of Punakha and Alu Dorji of Thimphu after the battle of Changlimithang in 1885, the relics of future Buddha, Jowo Jampa (Maitreya). Frequent visits by Guru Padmasambahava and Chakhar Gyab (king of the iron castle of Bumthang) renovating the temple augmented the sacredness of this temple even more. Jambay lhakhang Drup is one of the most spectacular festivals hosted in the lhakhang and in the country where one can witness the “mewang”- the fire ritual and the naked dance that is unique to this lhakhang alone. Mewang or the fire ritual is normally held in the evening to bless infertile women with children.
Kurje Tshechu (June)
Kurje lhakhang is also one of the sacred temples of Bhutan located in Bumthang. Its history refers back to the time when Guru Padmasambava visited Bhutan to heal the ailing King Sindhu Raja who was then the king of Bumthang. Legend has it that in order to subdue the demon that was causing illness to the king, Guru meditated in a cave that resembled pile of Vajras (thunderbolt of enlightenment). After subduing the demons, imprints of Guru Padmasambava’s body remained. This is how the lhakhang got its name Kurje meaning imprint of the body. Similarly, Kurje festival is also an important festival for local people of Bumthang and rest of the Bhutanese alike because of its sacredness, blessings, and uniqueness. The age old mask dances and other traditional Bhutanese dances showcasing the unique culture of Bumthang are simply beautiful.
Ura Yakchoe (April/May)
Ura Yakchoe as the name suggests means celebration of Yaks (long haired bovine) by the people of Ura in Bumthang who are mostly sheep and yak herders. Since their livelihood depends on Yak, this festival is held annually in the month of April or May to commemorate Yaks. People from this region as well as others come together to display the best food (yak products) and to receive blessings from the relic which according to myth was a statue left at the door step of a woman by a great lama. It is a joyous ceremony with lot of dancing and singing; plays on the life of Guru Padmasambava and other great saint and the highlight being the yak dance which cannot be seen elsewhere.
Black-Necked Crane Festival (November)
A few hundered rare and endangered black-necked cranes arrive into the picturesque Phobjikha Valley (also called Gangtey Valley) from Tibet plateau each year at the end of October. The the cranes are revered in Bhutan and the government operates an information center in the valley featuring telescopes to view the birds. An annual Black-Necked Crane Festival occurs in early November.
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