There hasn’t been one single person, who when asked about the somewhat mysterious country of Bhutan, the Dragon Kingdom, has not been fascinated by the thought of seeing the country. A country about which so less is known. There are so many aspects of this beautiful country which are unique to it. And one among them is its huge number of colourful festivals. I have always wanted to know more about them and I am pretty sure, you do too. Well then let me tell you, my dear reader, you are in for a treat because, my dear friend and fellow-blogger Sherab Tenzin, who blogs at Druk Trails shares some gems about Thimpu’s biggest festival, the Thimpu Tsechu. So, I let him take over from here.
Thimphu, the capital city of the Kingdom of Bhutan will be at its best grandeur every year in autumn. It holds one of the biggest festivals of Bhutan – Thimphu Tshechu. This year, Thimphu Tshechu festival happened from 30th September to 2nd October.
Tshechu, in literal meaning, is 10th Day. Guru Padmasambhava, the saint who introduced Bhutan to Buddhism, is believed of visiting once on 10th Day of every month. Mask dances of Tshechu festivals are a dedication to his pious deeds.
Some mask dances are mediums of expressing cultures and principles introduced by him or his disciples. So Tshechu festivals of all 20 districts of Bhutan start on 10th Day of any Bhutanese calendar month. In some cases, Tshechu Festivals of 1 or 2 districts would coincide.
Bhutan’s then clergy and temporal rulers nurtured Tshechu festivals. Tshechus united people for disseminating political messages along with religious sermons. But now Tshechu festivals are occasions where family members can come together and pray together for good health. And for Bhutanese weavers, it’s the time to boast about their weaving skills.
In the eyes of tourists, Thimphu Tshechu Festival might appear like some kind of massive fashion competition with mask dances and clowns in middle. Thimphu Tshechu Festival and such festivals across Bhutan are beyond just wearing beautiful dresses and watching mask dances.
Mask Dances and Buddhism Principles
The second day of Thimphu Tshechu Festival is the day of ‘Rasha Mangcham’ dance. Since this dance takes longer than one hour to complete, many tourists say it’s quite mundane and repetitive.
This mask dance actually has a great message. It’s based on the Book of Death – the main teaching of Guru Padmasambhava. It’s a show of what happens to a person after he is dead and before he attains rebirth. An act of punishing a person who was hunter, liar and deceitful when he was alive will be showcased.
In another hand, a person who was good to others didn’t harm animals and never cheated others when he was alive will be rewarded with rebirth to other better realms. So this dance teaches the main essence of Buddhism, a cause and effect principle.
The principle of cause and effect is now a universal law. But we believe it acts only when one is alive, which is not true. This dance urges spectators to be good while alive.
Mask Dances and Human Moral Values
The dance of death is one important mask dances which is aimed in imparting moral values of responsibilities and accountability. It’s like a person who has committed a crime has to bear the punishment and not someone who didn’t do it. There is no concept of sharing.
Bhutan’s judiciary system also embraces this principle. Therefore, there will be masks of Raksha Lango (Lord of Death) in some judicial courts of Bhutan like there is Bhagwat Geeta Book in Indian Courts.
Some mask dances performed during Thimphu Tshechu Festival are re-enaction of Guru and his followers subduing demons or other spirits that harmed people even after warnings not to be harmful unto harmless people or animals.
Entertaining Clowns and human Follies
In all Tshechu Festivals, clowns ‘Atsaras’ are crowd entertainers. They are sacred profane characters that hold red wooden phallus. Spectators would see them witty, humorous and yet responsible for controlling the mass and moves of other dances.
Since the term ‘Atsara’ itself means teacher or scholar, they bring various follies of humanity through sensible pranks, jokes and acts. In all, they would use the crazy wisdom of sexuality, profanity and criticism like what Lam Drukpa Kuenley, the Divine Madman did to spread his teachings.
They also represent overall spontaneous, jovial and liberal characters of Bhutanese society. In actual Tshechu festival grounds, they are characters who urge people to forget life’s worries, problems and obsessions.
Cultural Programs and Culture wealth
Thimphu Tshechu Festival is one of the colourful festivals of Bhutan where various historically significant cultural programs of traditional dances are performed. They are, actually, display of Bhutan’s cultural strength like other big countries show military strength through the display of their arms, ammunition and other war items.
One of the things that would amuse tourists would be the complexity of Bhutan’s national dress Gho and Kira. Though on the fashion front, there is development of other alternative dresses, intricate ghos and kiras that are woven in traditional handlooms are still the pride of Bhutan.
Therefore, when you travel Bhutan to witness Thimphu Tshechu Festival, more than just watching mere moves and acts of the mask dancers and clowns, it would be better if you get down into historical significance and underlying meanings of them.