Wangdue Tshechu (festival)

Wangdue Tshechu is a three-day festival of mask and folk dances founded by the 4th Temporal Ruler of Bhutan, Mr. Tenzing Rabgye (1638-1696), to commemorate the birth of Guru Padmasambhave. The Tshechu features dance by monks and laymen, and on the final day, the display of the huge and colorful thangka, a painting on silk with embroidery unfurled only once a year. The Annual Wangduephodrang Tshechu was held at Wangdue Dzong, which sadly enough, burned to the ground in June, 2012. That year it was re-located to the Tencholing Military Training center. Fortunately, plans and support for the reconstruction of Wangdue Dzong has already begun and the festival has returned to the restored dzong. Read about the traditional "Chams" dance schedule and details below.

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Wangdue Tshechu Program - Day 1

Dance of the Lord of Death and his Consort (Shinje Yabyum)

Costume : Brocade long dress, buffalo masks

Dancing at Wangdue festival, BhutanThe Bodhisattva Manjusri (Jampelyang) represents the body of wisdom of all the Buddhas. When he takes the appearance of the terrifying Lord of Death, he becomes the Lord (Je) of the Death (Shin) and thus is called Shinje. Being the Lord of Death, he is also the ruler of the Three Worlds which he protects. His wrathful buffalo face guards the four continents and blesses them before the arrival on earth of the God of Wisdom.

The Dance of the Four Stag (Shacham)

Costume : knee-length skirts, dear masks

Long ago when Ugyen Rimpoche was in this world, he subdued the King of the Wind (also the Lord of the North/West direction) who created much unhappiness in this world through his great power, by making the sentient beings and word tremble. Ugyen Rimpoche rode the stag, which happened to be the mount of the God of the Wind, when he subdued the earth and he appeased all beings by establishing peace and happiness.

As a blessing, the first of the incarnation of Nam Nying (Namkhe Nyingpo) who was Guru’s disciple, found the effigy of the face of a stag and so the dance of the White stag came into being. During this dance, the gratitude of the pious people is demonstrated to all the beings destined to be converted in the future. After all the allegations of the world have been overcome, happiness and peace will reign supreme.

Dance of the 21 Black Hats (Shana)

Costume : Large black hat, felt boots, colorful brocade long dress, no mask

The Black Hat dancers assume the appearance of yogis who have the power of killing and recreating life. In order to lead to the field of Buddha beings who cannot be led by peaceful means, they subdue these enemies of the Doctrine through their external compassionate anger but internally they have an accomplished peaceful mind. They have the appearance of Tantrists who are good to beings through terrifying but really accomplished acts such as killing and expelling bad spirits. By the wisdom of their knowledge, the five poisonous sins disappeared in the sphere of emptiness.

This dance can also be referred to as ‘Gar’ dance. It is derived from the different traditions of the Tantras (texts of Northern Buddhism). They say that with the help of gods who have meditated deeply upon the mantras (sacred formulas), the ‘Gar’ which are the gestures of the dancers’ hands are transformed into mudras (sacred mystic gestures) and their feet which pound the earth are forming a mandala (mystic geometric figure).

The Black Hat Dancers who perform the ritual for the earth firstly build a tantric mandala and then cut the demons into pieces. Thus, they take possession of the earth in order to further protect it and they dance the thunderbolt step to impress their power on it (The thunderbolt step is a particular step in the religious dances).

Dance of the 21 Black Hats with Drums (Shana Nga Cham)

Then when the Black Hat dancers have destroyed the malevolent enemies who persecuted the beings and the Buddhists, they beat the great drums of "Buddhism The sound of the drums represents the religion itself which cannot be represented in any other way because it has no visible form.

Dances at the annual Wangdue Tsechu

Dance of the Three Kinds of Ging (with sticks, with swords, with drums) (Peling Ging Sum)

Costume : The Ging are wearing knee-length skirts. For the dance with the sticks, they are wearing animal masks. For the dance with the drums, and for the dance with the swords, they are wearing colorful terrifying masks. 

At Wangduephodrang, the demon Nyulema (vernacular : Yulim) wears a yellow mask and appears with atsaras before the dance. The origin of the happiness of all beings in the three worlds is the religion of Buddha. To propagate this religion in the world, one must listen to the teachings, then practice thinking and meditating in the places of meditation. Any kinds of demons, human or non-human, who are creating obstacles to the doctrine and who have no fast powers and bad thoughts are called Jyungpo Nyulema. There are many means by way of magical formulas to subdue these malevolent spirits. On this subject, the great ‘Treasure Discoverer’, Pemalingpa, when he went to Zangtho Pelri, saw the dance of the Three Kinds of ‘Ging’ who are emanations of Ugyen Rimpoche. This was the blessing which explained how to subdue the demons Nyulema by magic. The deep teachings of these dances appeared to Pemalingpa.

Thus, although all the demons Nyulema who are creating obstacles to the religion are fleeing anywhere in the Three Worlds, the Ging with sticks can find them, thanks to their knowledge. They catch them with the hook of compassion, beat them with the stick of wisdom and tie them with the noose of compassion.

The Ging with the Swords purify the atmosphere from such bad deeds as robbery, killing or the separation of one’s self from one’s tutelary (Yidam) which are caused by the Nyulemas. The Ging with the swords send their minds in the paradise of pure consciousness, while they use as sacrificial offerings their body of flesh and blood.

After these demons have been vanquished, the Ging with the drums, dance with happiness. They beat the drums of the religion which is thus propagated.

This dance is performed to bring good luck and wish happiness to all living beings. These dances are considered as blessings and in all the countries, they are connected with religious ceremonies. Those who master the practice of the two degrees of meditation must explain the doctrine. Then when the visions have been explained, when the merit which is represented by the devotion for the assembly of Gods has been attained and when all sorts of black demons have been suppressed, the White Gods are victorious and the doctrine of Lord Buddha is propagated and thus for all living beings, joy and happiness arise.

Kyecham (accompanying dance)

Costume : knee-length yellow skirt, bare-feet, animal mask sword in the right hand

When King Norzang left for the north, the protectors of the religion, guardians of the doctrine and the assembly of the King’s tutelary deities becomes his armed companions, thanks to their various magical powers and they openly accompanied him to war.

This is the classical explanation of this dance from whence it takes its name. However, there is another explanation which is closely related to the popular explanation of Phole Mole, the following dance. Kyecham and Phole Mole are inter-related.

The son of an old man and a pretty girl got married. They seemed to be a compatible couple, but during a fight he cut off her nose. First their love was so great, that they could not be separated but then they got attracted by somebody else because mind and body are not constant. This is a universal law which says that there is no real substance in the worldly components. Many people behave like this and bring upon themselves suffering in this life and in one to come.

Dance of the nobleman and the Ladies (Phole Mole)

Once upon a time, in a Kingdom called Nadem in the North of India, there was a king called Norzang who had five hundred queens. One day, the son of a hunter received a favor for saving the life force of a serpent deity: he could borrow from this deity the noose which brings anything. With it he caught the very beautiful daughter of King Driza, called Yudrongma, who was so pretty that no girls compare with her. He offered her to King Norzang who became passionately attached to her. When the king stopped looking at all other queens, they could not bear it so they asked Hari, the sacrificer , how to kill Yidrogma. Hari, by black magic, caused King Norzang’s father to be disturbed by a dream which was in the form of prophecy.

This prophecy said that the father and son had enemies, savage men from the north and that if they did not find a way of subduing these enemies immediately far away from the Kingdom, it will be too late and the kingdom will be destroyed. Then, following his father’s command, King Norzang was to leave for the north but his wife Yidrogma was not happy and she begged him to take her with him. The King explained to her in details that he could not take a woman while going to war in a far country but that his heart which was attached to her, was sad.  Yidrogma as a souvenir, gave him her ring, one of  her clothes and the white silk which covered her head. Then, he left for North and conquered the foreign enemies. Afterwards, he returned to his country and defeated all his internal opponents. In the mean time, Yidrogma had fled, through her magical power, to her father for fear of being killed, while the King was away. The King welcomed her back and once again she came to the human world where she lived happily with King Norzang.

This is he classical explanation of the Dance of Phole Mole, taken from the biography of King Norzang. Here is the explanation of what really happens in this dance which is more a comical and very crude play than a dance :

The two actors are princes, two princesses and old couple and the clowns. The two princes are going to war and are leaving the two princesses in the care of the old couple. As soon as they depart, the clowns try to frolic with princesses and corrupt the old women who is also behaving quite badly. When they return, the princes are scandalized by the behavior of the princesses and cut off their noses as a punishment. The old woman also has her noose cut off. Then a doctor is called to put the noses back but the old woman smells so much that he has to use a stick because he does not want to approach here. Finally the princes marry the princesses and everybody is reconciled.

Dance of the Stag and the Hounds (Shawa Shachi)

Long ago, Jetsun Milarepa (1040-1123) was deeply meditating in a hermitage called Nyichangkurta on the border between Nepal and Tibet, when he heard a man shouting and dog barking. He went out of his cave and saw a red Wangdue festival mask dance, Bhutanhaired stag who was sweating from all over his body and was trembling with fear. Because of his great compassion, Milarepa sang a religious song and the stag having forgotten his fear laid down on the right of the Lama. Chasing the stag, a red dog arrived running as fast as lightening and full of fiery wrath. For the dog also, Milarepa sang a religious song and immediately he allayed the temper and the passion of the dog. The dog laid down on the left of Lama and here were both the stag and the dog, lying down like mother and son.

Following the dog, a hunter called Gonpo Dorji arrived. He was a frightening, fierce and strong man, carrying a bow and arrows. When he saw Milarepa, the stag and the dog, he became enraged. He told Milarepa, ‘you protect the stag and the dog, let us see if you can protect yourself from this arrow’, and bow broke into pieces, the string of the bow was cut and the arrow was turned against himself. Gonpo Dorji, your arrow is returned, now listen to my song’. As Milarepa was singing, a violent regret for whatever actions he had done before was born in him and  he confessed his bad deeds. He promised to take an oath not to sin again, he practiced the religion and attained full realization.

This dance is generally performed like a play in two parts. The first part takes place the first day while the second part is on the second day of the Wangduephodrang Tshechu. Usually, there are two dogs and not just one like in the above story. The first part is quite comical; the hunter’s servant appears first and jokes with the clowns. Then comes the hunter crowned with leafed and carrying a bow and arrows. He is accompanied by his two dog. These dancers are wearing knee-length yellow skirts and dog masks. The servant jokes very disrespectfully with his master who, before going hunting must perform some good-luck ritual. The priest who is called, performs the ritual in ways contrary to the Buddhist tradition, while the atsaras  and the servant go on with their jokes.

The second part is more serious and bears religious connotations:

Milarepa appears, wearing a long white dress, white hat and holding a pilgrim’s staff. Cupping his right ear with one hand, he sings in soft and plaintive voice. The two dogs, the stag and the hunter, one after other, arrive at the spot and are instantly won over by the songs. Their conversion is symbolized by a stretched rope over which the dogs and the hunter jump. This part exhibits some fine acrobatics.

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Wangdue Tshechu Program - Day 2

Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds (Durdag)

Costume : white skull masks, short shirts and boots

There are eight large cremation grounds at the periphery of the symbolic mandala where the assembly of secret tantric deities reside. In these grounds, dwell numerous beings who are bound by oath to protect the religion (Chhokyong). Among them are the Lords of the Cremation Grounds. True to the oath they have taken, these lords subjugate demonic enemies who violate the doctrine. They offer their vanquished foes to the gods of the Mandala who reduce them to a mere name.

Dance of the Terrifying Deities (Tungam)

Costume : beautiful brocade dresses, boots and terrifying masks

This spectacular and dramatic dance symbolizes the liberation by death of those who can not led to the path of the Buddha through peaceful means. The core of the dance depicts the sacrificial killing.

First, the dancers representing the gods circle the bad spirits and ensnare them in a box. Then the main god, who holds the phurba (the ritual dagger), kills them. He thus saves the world from them and at the same time delivers them into salvation. This is the only way by which the men and the asuras (half-gods) who become enemies of "Buddhism, can be converted.

Hence, Ugyen Rimpoche, who is the emanation of all the Buddhas, took the form of Dorje Dragpa, ‘Fierce Thunderbolt’ to liberate such bad spirits and usher them into the superior sphere of bliss. This incredible feat brought happiness o the human world and helped increase faith in non-illusionary acts.

Dance of the Raksha from the monastery of Dole (Dole Raksha Cham)

Costume : The Raksha has a black mask with horns and a yellow skirt.

The 4th temporal ruler of Bhutan, Tenzing Rabgye (1680-1695) wished to do good to his subjects of Shar, Wang and They. Therefore, he ordered a bridge to be made on the Wangdue river by a mason named Dragpa from the village of Rinchengang. In 1685, this builder along with the people of Shar, Wang and They began the construction of the bridge but what the men built during day time, the demons destroyed at night. As the bridge could not be completed, the men wondered what to do. The 2nd Je Khenpo, Seunam Oezer (1672-1689) who was at that time residing in Wangduephodrang Dzong, had a dream, one night a black man appeared and told him, ‘the bridge can not be completed now because the demons are creating obstacles.

To find a solution to this problem, a new dance which had never been shown here before has to be performed, you will invite everyone to see it. At the time demons will also come to see it and their attention will be turned away from the bridge. After you have established the middle pillar of the bridge in the water, you will immediately perform the consecration. In this way the demons will not be able to do any more harm.’ Then the Je Khenpo remembered that during the construction of Wangduephodrang Dzong there had been a prophecy given by Yeshy Gompo to the Shabdrung. The Je Khenpo realized that this was also a prophecy from Yeshy Gompo. Immediately, he sent messengers to fetch the dancers, masks and costumes from the monastery of Dole.

When the dances were performed in the Dzong, many villagers came to see the festival and the water-deity of Wangdue bridge also came with his retinue of demons. As their attention was turned away from the river, the pillar of the bridge was built in the water and the consecration was at once performed by Je Khenpo. At the moment, in the Dzong, all the other dancers were finished but the Raksha dancer as if he was agitated by the protectors of the religion (Chhokyong), did not enter the dancers’ dressing room, and went on performing alone number of dances such as Bja Cham, Teucham, Gyucham, Kansi, Gosi, until the work on the bridge was completed.

Once the construction of the bridge was completed, he disappeared without a trace. By the time, the villagers dispersed and demons went back to their places, the construction was over, the construction ceremony was finished and the demons were powerless. That is how the order of the 4th temporal ruler, Tenzing Rabgye was carried out and the bridge with three points of support built by the mason Dragpa was completed.            

For the happiness of the Bhutanese people and in order to prevent the earth and water deities from doing any mischief, one mandala (diagram) dedicated to the Buddha Mitrupa (Akshobya) was placed in the middle of the bridge.

Dance of the Rakshas and the Judgement of the Dead (Raksha Mangcham) 

This is based on the Bardo Thoedrol (Book of the Dead), a text hidden by Guru Rimpoche and rediscovered Karma Wangdue festival mask danceLingpa in the 14th century. This is one of the most important dances of the tshechu and is watched carefully by many old people in preparation for their own death.

When all beings, die, they wander in the Bardo (intermediate state) waiting to be led by the love of the Buddha into the pure fields where no suffering exists. However, the Buddhas assume both peaceful and terrifying forms. Those who didn’t adore the Buddhist doctrine do not recognize the "Buddhism in their terrifying form and are frightened and can not be led into the paradises.

Shinje Chhogyel, Lord of Death, estimates the value of the white and black deeds during the judgement. Also present are the White God and Black Demon who live with every being from birth, and all the helpers who emanate under numerous forms. These include; the ox-headed justice minister, the wild hog-headed helper who takes account of the black and white deeds,  the Khyung-headed bird who holds a small sword to cut the root of the three poisons (ignorance, envy, anger) and a big hammer to destroy the rocky mountains of sins, a lion-headed helper holds a lasso representing love and an iron chain representing compassion, the fierce bear-headed helper holds the magical noose binding the means and wisdom together and a saw to cut selfishness, a serpent-headed helper holds a mirror reflecting all actions, and the monkey-headed helper weighs them on a scale.

All these helpers are called rakshas and they separate the black actions from the white actions of all beings. The frightening Court of Justice cannot be avoided by the damned beings. But after enduring certain sufferings, their sins are washed away and they are purified. This dance shows everyone that if they devote themselves to virtuous actions, they will be sent immediately to the pure fields and paradises. Then after life, when they have to cross the Bardo and meet the helpers and the assembly of peaceful and terrifying deities, they recognize them as incarnations of Buddha and are delivered from the frightening Bardo.

The dance is like a play and lasts over two hours. First is the long dance of all the rakshas, the helpers of Shinje. Then Shinje himself appears, symbolized by a huge puppet holding a mirror. The White God and the Black Demon enter with them. The judgement begins. The Black Demon and his helpers perform a dance. The sinner, dressed in black and wearing a red hat, is frightened and tries to escape but is recaptured each time. From his basket a freshly severed cow’s head is taken, implying that the sinner was responsible for killing it. As the judge weighs his actions, the White God sings of the merits of the man and the Black Demon expounds the sins. Finally a black strip of cloth symbolizing the road to hell is spread and the sinner is sent to hell.

After a general dance everyone sits again. Another man arrives, clad in white and holding a prayer flag and a ceremonial scarf. The same scene is re-enacted and at the conclusion a white strip of cloth, symbolizing the road to heaven, is deployed. Fairies elaborately dressed in brocade and bone-ornaments come to fetch him. At the last moment, the Black Demon, furious at having lost a being, tries to grasp the virtuous man but the White God protects him.

Dance of the Drums from Dramitse (Dramitse Nga Cham)

Costume : Animal masks and knee-length yellow skirt, big drums and curved drum sticks.

The name is derived from the place in Eastern Bhutan where the nun-daughter of Pedmalingpa, Choiten Zangmo, meditated in the 15th century. Her brother, the learned Lama Kunga Gyeltshen, not only saw Guru Rimpoche several times and heard his teachings but also visited the celestial abode, Zangtho Pelri.

While there, the attendants of Guru Rimpoche took on the form of a hundred peaceful and terrifying deities. Wielding a big drum in one hand and the curved drumstick in the other, they performed a dance that left a lasting impression upon Lama Kunga Gyeltshen. On his return to Dramitse, the lama established the tradition of the dance he witnessed, to complement other drum dances composed by the ancient Discoverers of Treasures like Sangye Lingpa and Ugyen Lingpa.

In the heaven of Zangtho Pelri where reside beings with accumulated merit, the dancers are decorated with splendid jewels. The mere sight of the dance is enough to vanquish black demons and allow the white gods to reign supreme. Men and Gods are happy and gain Buddhahood, the ultimate objective.

Shawa Shachhi - Lencham : Dance of the Stag and the Hounds (2nd part)

In the first part of this dance (Day 2, No. 13) the saint Milarepa encounters the stag and the hunter and his dogs in hot pursuit. This part depicts the conversion of the hunter, Gonpo Dorji, to Buddhism. When Gonpo Dorji arrives at the spot where Milarepa has his dogs and the stag seated peacefully on either side, he thinks the sage has cast a spell on the animals. Gonpo Dorji, who is fierce, strong and frightening in appearance, is enraged at the sight. Saying, ‘you protect the stag and the dog, let us see if you can protect yourself from this arrow’, he lets fly a poisonous arrow.

In the next instant, Gonpo Dorji’s bow shatters, the bow string snaps and the arrow turns towards himself. Gonpo Dorji cannot believe what he sees until Milarepa tells him: ‘Gonpo Dorji, your arrow is returned, now listen to my song’. As the song wafts through the forest, Gonpo Dorji is filled with deep remorse for his past actions and confesses his bad deeds. He promises never to sin again and becomes a practitioner never to sin again and becomes a practitioner of the religion. In time he attained full realism.

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Wangdue Tshechu Program - Day 3

At dawn, the ‘Thongdrol’, the thangka which brings liberation by sight is displayed till approximately 8 A.M. A religious ceremony called ‘Shugdel’ is performed by monk body of Wangduephodrang Dzong. The Royal Troupe of Masks and Folk Dances performs also in front of the thangkaa dance called ‘Religious Dance with Guitar’ (Dranyen Choeshey). Afterwards, the thangka is rolled and folded and is kept out of sight in the Dzong until the next festival.

The ‘Thongdrol’ is a huge wall-hanging, a thangka’ which brings liberation ‘Drol’ be seeing it.

The ‘Thongdrol’ of Wangduephodrang is beautifully made and represents the eight manifestation of Guru Rimpoche. It was completed and shown first time in 1984.

The display starts at dawn and the monk-body perform ‘Shugdel’, a blessing and offering ceremony which takes place when five elements are joined together : an accomplished place, i.e., Bhutan, an accomplished master, i.e., Guru Rimpoche, an accomplished retinue, i.e., the monk-body, an accomplished time, i.e., when religion flourishes, accomplished offerings, i.e., fruit, flower, tea, incense, food etc.

All the official and the public go next to the ‘Thongdrol’ and touch it with their head, thus receiving a blessing. Later a dance is performed in front of it by the Royal troupe in the 17th century costumes : the Dance with Guitar.

Dance with Guitar (Dranyen Cham)

Costume : elaborate and heavy woolen clothes (traditional felt boots, long black skirt, brown coat) sword and circular head-dress. They are holding a guitar called ‘Dranyen’.

Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal who is the reincarnation of Ugyen Rimpoche and of Thuje Chenpo brought under his control, according to a prophecy of Ugyen Rimpoche, this large Southern Land of Four Approaches (an ancient name of Bhutan) and he blessed it. He protects his subjects like sons by the heavy golden yoke of civil law. As, if he was crushing them under his feet, he conquered many foreign enemies and he was victorious in all directions.

He built marvelous temples and places and made beautiful chortens, statues and religious books, supports of the faith. He imposed very strict rules upon the newly established monk-body which forms the base of the doctrine and also upon the tantric college which is the essence of doctrine. He supported like the Three Jewels the admirable community of the monks who practice together the moral training; to listen, to think, to explain, to understand and to meditate the basic texts which are contained in the Three baskets (the Buddhist Canon), essence of the Buddha’s doctrine.

The generous donors who give offerings to the gods and gifts to the people believe in the result of their actions. Because of the power of their generosity, monks and laymen will be happy in this life and the life to come. This dance of the guitar is performed in a cheerful state of mind during the festival.

Dance of the Heroes (Pachem)

Costume : knee-length yellow skirt and golden crown. The dancers hold a small bell (drilbu) and a small drum (Damaru).

The great ‘Treasure-Discover’ Pemalingpa arrived in the presence of Ugyen Rimpoche, at the summit of the Zangtho Pelri, in the middle of a marvelous palace of lotus beams which reflected the wisdom large and deep as the sky, without obstacles. There he saw Ugyen Rimpoche, the Lord who leads the beings of the three worlds, sitting among his assistants in the center of a limitless mandala which was made of lines of rainbow beams. In the mandala, the assembly of the sages, of the tutelary deities, of the heroes (Pawos) and the heroines (Kandom Pamo) were dancing in the forms of various emanations of the peaceful and terrifying deities. All sorts of dances were performed and all sorts of harmonious melodies which are the sounds of the religion of the Great Path (Northern branch of "Buddhism) were sung. Among this congregation, the assembly of the peaceful heroes and heroines is the most important. They are as numerous as the moving clouds in order to celebrate the deep and large religion and their function is to lead the believers who die into the presence of Ugyen Rimpoche.

Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds (Durdag)

Costume : white skull masks, short shirts and boots

There are eight large cremation grounds at the periphery of the symbolic mandala where the assembly of secret tantric deities reside. In these grounds, dwell numerous beings who are bound by oath to protect the religion (Chhokyong). Among them are the Lords of the Cremation Grounds. True to the oath they have taken, these lords subjugate demonic enemies who violate the doctrine. They offer their vanquished foes to the gods of the Mandala who reduce them to a mere name.

Dance of the Ging and Tsholing 

Costume : The Tsholing wear long colorful dresses and terrifying masks. The Ging wear orange skirts, terrifying black and orange masks with a flag on top, and hold a big drum and a curved drumstick.

On the occasion of the consecration of the Samye Monastery in Tibet, Guru Rimpoche initiated this dance to show the people of Tibet the Zangtho Pelri, his realm.

The dance depicts the paradise of Ugyen Rimpoche from where all the incarnations of Ugyen Rimpoche, essence of all the Buddhas, are sent to the Three Worlds. In the middle of a great palace is seated Ugyen Rimpoche. On his right the holy men are Tibet and India are seated in a row and on his left the learned men (Pandits) from Tibet and India. In all the intermediate zones are the 108 ‘Treasure Discoverers’ (terton) who are his incarnations, and also his twenty five disciples, including the king of Tibet Trisongdetsen.

In the center of a rainbow, the assembly of tutelary deities (Yidam), heroes (pawos) and fairies (Kandoms), peaceful and terrifying, as if by magic, sing, dance and spread from the clouds three kinds of offerings. It is these offerings that grant both the ordinary and extraordinary realization.

All the protectors of the religion, male and female, in their fierce form, are guarding the four outer doors while the four Guardian Kings of the directions command an army of eight classes of spirits. These subdue all the demons who create obstacles to the Doctrine of Buddha. All these wonders have been personally observed by the ‘Treasure Discoverer’ Pemalinga.

Besides, a long time ago in Tibet, in order to introduce Buddhism, King Trisongdetsen built a large monastery in Samye. Ugyen Rimpoche, by showing hi magical powers through incarnations, subdued all the demons who were preventing its construction. Thus he fulfilled a religious commitment to the King.

These incarnations are manifested in the Ging and Tsholing Dance: the inner dance called the Ging Dance is performed by the assembly of heroes (Pawos), tutelary deities (Yidams) and fairies (Hansoms) as well as the various terrifying deities. The outer dance called Tsholing Dance, is performed by the protectors of the religion with their retinue of eight classes of spirits. This dance, which brings blessings, is performed in order to remove all obstacles to the Doctrine as well as to bring happiness to all sentient beings. When the Ging and Tsholing performed this miraculous and agitated dance, they discourage the external demons and demonstrate clearly their magical powers by which they can overcome the demons.

This dance is clearly a dance of purification before the arrival of Guru Rimpoche. People whistle to chase away the bad spirits and Ging hit everyone on the head with their drumsticks to chase away impurity from the body.

The Tsholing, after having destroyed the evil spirits symbolized by an effigy in a black box, are chased away by the Ging who stay alone and perform a dance of victory by beating their drums.

Dance of the Eight Manifestation of Guru Rimpoche (Gguru Tshen Gye)

The eight different forms that Guru Rimpoche assumed in order to convert different kinds of beings into Buddhism are represented in this dance.

Wangdue Festival photoUgyen Rimpoche is the second Buddha and the incarnations of Avalokiteshvara (Thugje Chenpo), Lord of Compassion. When he was born the son of a poultry farmer, he vowed to guide all beings of the world, particularly those of Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet. That was why he came to these regions. When Buddha was about to enter Nirvana, he prophesized to his disciples: ‘Don’t be sad, I will be coming from the West’. Thus he reappeared as Ugyen Rimpoche.

When the 100,000 fairies of wisdom were begging the Buddhas of the 10 directions to send somebody to guide all being, this was discussed at length and then all the virtues of their body, speech and mind were summed up in Ugyen Rimpoche. He came in order to guide he beings who live in the age of impurity.

His activities are beyond description, However, here is how he helped the beings of this continent through his eight manifestations :

He was born from a blue lotus on the lake of Danakosha in Oddhyana and was invited to become the son of King Indrabhuti. Then he was called Guru Tshokye Dorji, ‘Diamond Thunderbolt’ born from a lake’.

He renounced his kingdom and went to receive teachings from the Master Prabhati in the Maratika cave in Nepal. Then he was called Guru Shakya Senge., ‘The Lion of the Shakya clan’.

After listening to all the teachings of the Vajrayana, ‘The Diamond Path’ and after mastering the sciences of all Indian Pandits, he obtained full realization and was able to see all the gods and tutelary deities (yidam). The he was called Guru Loden Chogsey, ‘Guru’ who wants to acquire supreme knowledge.

After the marriage with the daughter of the King of Zahor, he was condemned to be burnt by the King. Through his magical powers, he turned the pyre into a lake and converted the kingdom to Buddhism. The he was called Guru Padmasambhava, the one ‘born from a lotus’.

When he returned to Oddhyana, the evil chiefs there wanted to burn him. But the fire would not consume his body. So the chiefs offered him the kingdom and its subjects. Then he was called Guru Pema Gyelpo, the ‘Lotus King’.

When he was preaching to the fairies (Khandoms) in the eight cremation grounds, he caught the ‘life force’ of the evil deities and turned them into protectors of the doctrine. Then he was called Nyma Yeoser, the ‘Sunbeam’.

As five hundred heretic Masters were trying to destroy the Doctrine of Buddha, he vanquished them all through the power of his words. He brought down the thunderbolt which burned them. He was then called Senge Dradrok, ‘the one who speaks with a lion voice’.

When he was at Senge Dzong in Kurtoe and at Taktsang in Paro, he was in the form of Dorje Dragpo, the ‘Terrifying Thunderbolt’. He subdued all the evil spirits who hindered Buddhism and blessed them as guardians of the Doctrine. He was then called Guru Dorji Drolo, the ‘thunderbolt’.

The fairy who is standing on the right of Guru Rimpoche is Mandarava, the lady of wisdom. Ugyen Rimpoche made her his own emanation for the benefit of the beings to be converted in the Kingdom of Zahor and the fairy who is standing at his left is Yeshy Tshogyel. She represents the goddess of knowledge, mother of all the Buddhas. She helped to establish Buddhism in Tibet for the benefit of all beings. 

Wangdue Thangka

Unvieling of the Thangka

The climax of the Wangdue festival is certainly the ritual displaying of the thangka, a large colorful and sacred tapestry. On the final day, before sunrise, the thangka will be unfurled before all attendees who have gathered to watch. These Thangka, large cotton and silk painted murals, have served through history as important teaching tools depicting the life of the Buddha, various influential lamas, and other deities and bodhisattvas. One typical subject is The Wheel of Life, which is a visual representation of the Abhidharma teachings (Art of Enlightenment).

The unfurling is marked by intense religious fervor, the large thangka (measuring about 30 meters or 100 ft) is surrounded by devotees who gather to witness this occasion offer obeisance in front of the Thongdrel seeking blessings. Folk dances are also performed during the ceremony. Before sunrise, the painting is rolled up and kept in a Dzong before it is displayed again one year later at the festival.

bhutanese sign

Why choose Indochina Travel? We take you to places, organize experiences, and introduce you to local people that no one else does. Whether celebrating an anniversary or planning a family trip, our journeys offer unforgettable experiences in Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon

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