- Festival and Culture
Tshechu is a religious festival meaning "tenth day" held annually in various temples, monasteries and dzongs throughout the country.
The Tshechu is a religious event celebrated on tenth day of a month of the lunar calendar corresponding to the birthday of Guru Rimpoche (Guru Padmasambhava). However the exact month of the Tshechu varies from place to place and temple to temple.
Tshechus are grand events where entire communities come together to witness religious mask dances, receive blessings and socialize. . In addition to the mask dances tshechus also include colorful Bhutanese dances and other forms of entertainment.
It is believed that everyone must attend a Tshechu and witness the mask dances at least once to 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 ago 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.
Two of the most popular Tshechus in the country are the Paro and Thimphu Tshechus in terms of participation and audience. Besides the locals many tourists from across the world are attracted to these unique, colorful and exciting displays of traditional culture.
- Jomolhari Mountain Festival
The festival celebrates the culture of the communities living in close proximity to endangered snow leopards.
“A community based initiative for the conservation of snow leopards”
Jomolhari Mountain Festival is an exquisitely themed two-day event celebrated at the base of Mt. Jomolhari, by communities located along one of the most scenic trekking routes in Bhutan.
The festival celebrates the culture of the communities living together with the natural wonders that surround them: one in particular, the elusive, yet elegant, snow leopard! This endangered cat thrives in the region; several camera trap photos and definite signs have established the region as one of the best snow leopard habitats in Bhutan.
The communities of Soe Yaksa and Soe Yutoed, located along the Jomolhari trek, in collaboration with Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP) and the Nature Recreation and Ecotourism Division (NRED) - with support from the Snow Leopard Conservancy (SLC) and Bhutan Foundation - bring together this festival as a community based initiative towards the conservation of snow leopard; to create awareness on the importance of conservation; engage and build on the perception and attitude to create harmony between this endangered cat and the people; provide a platform to bring in opportunities for sustainable livelihood, and promote their culture.
The festival includes snow leopard themed folk songs and dances performed by the local people, JDNP staff and the school children, traditional sports such as Khuru (darts), shot put, horse and yak riding, sampling of local delicacies and boutique handicrafts, and various picturesque guided hikes in and around Jomolhari. It also showcases various stalls set up by both local and international agencies to educate and promote conservation among those participating at the festival.
The festival was initiated in 2013 and endorsed by the government as an annual event.
- Mongar Tshechu
Mongar in eastern Bhutan is largely known as the “Bastion of the Zhongarps,” after the illustrious Dzongpons of Zhongar that played significant role in the history of Bhutan. One can still see the ruins of the Zhongar Dzong next to the highway in Lingmethang before reaching Mongar.
The main inhabitants of this region are the Tshanglas and the Kurtoeps. They speak distinct languages known as Tshanglakha and Kurtoepaikha. This region is famous for its exquisite wood carvings.
The new Dzong in Mongar was built at the initiative of the third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in 1953. Today the dzong is the centre of administration where all important decisions are taken.
The most exciting local event is the annual three day Tshechu that is held every November. It is witnessed by people from as far as Trashigang and Lhuentse.
There are numerous local Tshechus in this region all with their own unique dances and traditions. They occur at various times throughout the year so visitors can be assured that no matter when they visit a fantastic and colorful local festival will be taking place.
- Nimalung Festival
Nimalung Lhakhang is located in Chumey in Bumthang. It is approximately a 15 minute drive from the road that branches off from the village of Chumey.
The Lhakhang was co-founded by Dasho Gonpo Dorji and Doring Trulku Jamyang Kunzang, the third mind-aspect reincarnation of Terton Jigme Lingpa in 1935.
The main relic of the two-storied temple is a magnificent statue of Guru Rimpoche. The monastery is decorated with murals of the Nyingmapa and Drukpa traditions. There are also paintings of Guru Rimpoche and his disciples, the lineage of Terton Pema Lingpa, and several Buddhist masters affiliated with the monastery.
One of the most important festivals held at the Lhakhang is the Kaling Zhitro Drubchen. It was initiated by Doring Trulku and he was the first person to have started the rite in Bhutan. It is held on the first fifteen days of the first month of the Bhutanese calendar.
The local Tshechu is held once a year in the 5th month of the Bhutanese calendar. During the Tshechu an awe-inspiring Thongdrol (gigantic scroll painting) of Guru Rimpoche is put on display for attendees. The Thongdrol is nine meters long and twelve meters wide and in addition to inspiring wonder is said to cleanse the sins of all those who look upon it. The Thongdrol which was donated by Lopen Pemala and was consecrated in June 1994 in the presence of a large crowd of villagers by Lhalung Thuksey Rimpoche, the reincarnation of mental aspect of Pema Lingpa. During the festival, a series of colorful and spectacular mask dances are performed.
- Nomad Festival
This annual gathering of Bhutan’s nomadic highlanders brings together the herders of the northeastern and northwestern Himalayan frontiers in an unforgettable celebration of their unique culture and traditions.
You’ll gain an intimate glimpse into the proud communities that have survived virtually unchanged to this day and form a rich part of Bhutan’s ethnic and cultural diversity.
Dine on delicious traditional recipes whilst sitting cross-legged around a stone hearth as families from this region have done for untold ages.
Dress like a Bhutanese highlander and try on an entire costume spun from yak hair, including the Brokpa black hat with five long fringes down the front or the conical bamboo Layap headgear. Ladies can wear the wide, beautiful hand-woven aprons decorated with colorful motifs of flowers and animals traditionally worn by women. They can even have their hair plaited and decorated with colorful ribbons in the traditional style of the region.
The festival will give you the opportunity to witness the grand pageantry of the Chipdrel, a ceremonial procession usually reserved for royalty.
Adventurous visitors will definitely want to try some yak riding.
Immerse yourself in the festival-wide demonstrations of traditional Bhutanese village life including using ancient mill-stones for grinding maize, husking harvested rice and tilling fields with ox-drawn ploughs.
Attain inner peace as you visit some of the most exquisite Buddhist temples in Bhutan.
The Nomad festival is held in Bumthang Dzongkhag (district) in central Bhutan the spiritual heartland of the country. Bumthang is approximately an 8 hour drive from the capital city of Thimphu.
- Gomphu Kora Festival
Gomphu Kora lies in the heart of the agrarian belt of eastern Bhutan. It is 23 kilometres from Trashigang Dzong, the headquarters of Bhutan’s most populous district, and two kilometers from Duksum, a quaint hamlet consisting of a few shops.
Gomphu means “Meditation Cave” and Kora means “Circumambulation”. The name is derived from a cave formed out of a rock-face next to a temple that has been built as a tribute to this sacred site.
The story of Gomphu Kora goes back to the 8th century AD. Legend has it that an evil spirit named Myongkhapa escaped from Samye in Tibet when Guru Padmasambhava, the progenitor of the Nyingma strand of Buddhism, was spreading the Dharma in the Himalayas. Myongkhapa followed the course of the present-day Kholongchhu stream and concealed himself inside a rock where Gomphu Kora stands today. The Guru followed the evil, mediated for three days inside the rock cave and finally vanquished it.
Several prominent religious personalities have undertaken pilgrimage to Gomphu Kora and the earliest was Gongkhar Gyal, grandson of Lhasay Tsangma. He built a small shrine at Gomphu Kora around the 10th century A.D. In the 14th century, Terton Pema Lingpa, visited Gomphu Kora and enlarged the existing shrine. It was renovated and enlarged in the 15th century by Yongzin Ngagi Wangchuk, the grandfather of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. He also inscribed murals on the walls of the temple.
The biggest attraction of Gomphu Kora is the circumambulation. “Go around Gomphu Kora today for tomorrow may be too late”, advises a local song that entices devotees to visit Gomphu Kora. The place comes alive, once every year from 23rd to 25th March (check with your tour operator to confirm these dates), when people all over eastern Bhutan descend upon the narrow valley, dressed in their finery, to partake in the festivity, to worship and to reaffirm their connection with the past.
The sanctity of the three day religious festival even draws the Dakpa tribe from neighboring Arunachael Pradesh (India). They endure days of travel on foot through rugged environs with entire families in tow. Some say the Dakpas have done this for more than a millennium, beginning shortly after Guru Padmasambhava sanctified the place in the 8th century A.D.
The Guru is attributed to have said that devotees will flock to Gomphu Kora for eons to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. There couldn’t be a more accurate prophesy.
- Pema Gatshel Tshechu
Pema Gatshel Dzongkhag is situated in Eastern Bhutan. Its major inhabitants are the Tshanglas who are found living on agriculture and animal husbandry.
The district is known for its numerous festivals and folk songs. The most notable folk song is the Ausa, a song that is sung during the departure of family members, friends and relatives. Since the construction of the dzong in the early 1980’s, they have also celebrated the annual Tshechu over a three day period.
Many Mask Dances or Cham which are believed to confer blessings upon the spectators and teach them the ways of the Buddhist dharma are performed during the festival. Cham are also believed to provide protection from misfortune and exorcise evil influences. The festival is a religious ceremony and it is believed that you gain merit simply by attending it.
It is also an annual social gathering where people from all walks of life get together to celebrate and contemplate religion. People often travel great distances to be a part of the Tsehchu. The entire community rejoices together, dressed in their finest clothing whilst enjoying the company of friends and family.
- Punakha Tshechu and Drubchen
Punakha is located in the western part of Bhutan is the winter home of the Je Khenpo, the Chief Abbot of Bhutan. Punakha has been of critical importance since the time of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in 17th century.
Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal is known as the unifier of Bhutan as a nation state and he was the one who gave Bhutan and its people the distinct cultural identity that identified Bhutan from the rest of the world.
During 17th century Bhutan was invaded several times by Tibetan forces seeking to seize a very precious relic, the Ranjung Kharsapani. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal led the Bhutanese to victory over the Tibetans and to commemorate the triumph he introduced the Punakha Drubchen. Since then Punakha Drubchen (also known as Puna Drubchen) became the annual festival of Punakha Dzongkhag.
The Punakha Drubchen is a unique festival because it hosts a dramatic recreation of the scene from the 17th century battle with Tibetan army. The ‘pazaps’ or local militia men, dress in traditional battle gear and reenact the ancient battle scene. This reenactment harkens back to the time when in the absence of a standing army, men from the eight Tshogchens or great village blocks of Thimphu came forward and managed to expel the invading forces from the country. Their victory ushered in a period of new-found internal peace and stability.
In 2005 another festival known as Punakha Tshechu was introduced by the 70th Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra and the then Home Minister His Excellency Lyonpo Jigme Yoedzer Thinley. The Tshechu was introduced in response to the requests made by Punakha District Administration and local peopleto host a Tshechu in order to better preserve Buddhist teachings and keep alive the noble deeds of Zhabdrung Rimpoche.
These two festivals not only play an important role in preserving Bhutan’s rich culture and traditions but also provide devout Buddhists with an opportunity for prayer and pilgrimage. They reflect the richness of the Bhutanese cultural heritage and are very special in the eyes and hearts of both Bhutanese and tourists who visit Bhutan.
- Sakteng Festival
Sakten valley is situated in eastern Bhutan under Trashigang Dzongkhag at an altitude of 3000 meters. It is inhabited by a semi-nomadic people known as the Brokpas.
Living close to nature in this pristine wilderness, the Brokpas way of life has remained virtually unchanged through the years and they still mainly depend upon yak rearing and animal husbandry for their livelihoods. Sakteng valley remains untouched and unspoiled by the influence of the outside world.
The Sakten Tshechu is held for three days each year at the Sakten Lhakhang situated just next to the village. In addition to its religious function the Tshechu provides the Brokpas with an occasion for revelry and merry making. Like all Tshechus in Bhutan, the festival is a time when the entire community can come together for celebrate and engage in worship. The festival is a lively, colorful and jovial event as the Brokpas are all dressed in their traditional finery and enjoying the celebration with rounds of ara (local wine). The rare Yak dance and the Ache Lhamo dance are performed during this festival. These dances are unique to the Brokpa culture and are quite distinctive from the usual mask dances seen in other parts of the country.
- Thimphu Tshechu
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 which travel from neighboring 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. The dances and the jesting of the Atsaras are believed to entrance evil forces and prevent them from causing harm during Tshechus. Modern Atsaras also perform short skits to disseminate health and social awareness messages.
To farmers, the Tshechu is also seen as a break from farm life. It’s an occasion to celebrate, receive blessings and pray for health and happiness.
- Trongsa Tshechu
Trongsa, the sacred and temporal heart of the country is a two day journey from Thimphu. Situated in central Bhutan, it was once the seat of power over central and eastern regions. Both the first and second kings of Bhutan ruled the country from this ancient seat and it is customary for the crown prince to serve as the Trongsa Penlop (“governor”) prior to ascending the throne.
The dzong built in 1648, is a massive structure with many levels, sloping down the contours of the ridge upon which it is built. The dzong’s highly strategic position, on the only connecting route between Eastern and Western Bhutan allowed the Trongsa Penlop to control travel and trade in the country effectively placing him in command of the whole of the Central and Eastern regions of the country.
Of the many festivals held in various parts of Trongsa, the grandest is the three day annual Tshechu. This festival bring together people from all walks of life and falls sometime in the month of December. In addition to traditional mask dances, visitors can witness the unfurling of the sacred Thongdrol and receive blessings from high ranking monks. People also receive blessings from the sacred Nangtens that is opened during the last day of the Tshechu.
- Ura Yakchoe
Ura valley in Bumthang is known for the famous dance known as the Ura Yakchoe. The dance is performed during a festival that is held every May. During the festival a sacred and important relic is put on display so that the people can receive blessings from it.
According to legend an old woman sitting outside her house was visited by a lama asking for a drink of water. When she came out with the water, the lama had vanished leaving behind only a sack. Out of curiosity, she checked the bag and found the statue that is now displayed annually. This relic has been passed on from generation to generation and is still owned by the descendants of the woman.
- Jambay Lhakhang Festival
Jambay lhakhang is located in Bumthang and is situated on the way to the Kurjie Lhakhang. It’s a ten minutes drive to the temple from the Chamkhar town.
Jambay Lhakhang is one of the oldest temples in the kingdom. It was founded by, Songtsen Gampo, a Tibetan King in the 7th century AD. The king was destined to build 108 temples known as Thadhul- Yangdhul (temples on and across the border) in a day to subdue the demoness that was residing in the Himalayas. The temple is one of the two of the 108 built in Bhutan. A second is located in Paro, the Kichu lhakhang also built on the same day.
Legend has it that Guru Rimpoche visited the site several times and deemed it exceptionally sacred. Chakhar Gyab, the king of the Iron Castle of Bumthang renovated the temple in the 8th century AD.
The first king of Bhutan, Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck constructed the Dus Kyi Khorlo (Kala Chakra- Wheel of Time) inside the temple, to commemorate his victory over his rivals Phuntsho Dorji of Punakha and Alu Dorji of Thimphu after the battle of Changlimithang in 1885. Later, Ashi Wangmo, the younger sister of the second king of Bhutan, built the Chorten lhakhang.
The main relics include the future Buddha, Jowo Jampa (Maitreya) from whose name the present name of the temple is derived. The lhakhang also houses more than one hundred statues of the gods of Kalachakra built by the first king, in 1887.
One of the most spectacular festivals in the country, called Jambay lhakhang Drup is hosted here. The festival lasts for five days (check with your tour operator to confirm these dates). The highlight of the festival is the fire ritual that is held in the evening where crowds gather to witness the ritualistic naked dance.
- Paro Tshechu
- The Paro Tshechu is held every spring and is one of the most colorful and significant events in Paro Dzongkhag (district). The Tsehchu is considered a major attraction and people travel from neighboring districts to participate in the festivity. Early in the morning on the last day of the celebration the monks display a gigantic thangkha (embroidered painting) , the Guru Throngdel, inside the dzong. Thongdrols are especially impressive examples of Buddhist art and never fail to amaze viewers. They are considered so sacred that simply seeing a Thongdrol is said to cleanse the viewer of sin.