Annual religious festivals in Bhutan ("tsechus" and "dromches") are important spiritual and festive occasions that give visitors a chance to experience the music and dance that are an integral part in the Bhutanese cultural life. Every village has its own tradition of dance that celebrate faith, community and tradition. They are also important social gatherings that attract people from great distances to see each eather once a year. Everyone wears their finest traditional clothing ("ghos" worn by men and "kiras" worn by women).
Bhutanese culture and tradition are influenced heavily by Buddhism. Festivals are dedicated to saints and other deities and are celebrated in dzongs (fortress temples) and other places of religious importance These festivals are uniquely Bhutanese and have evolved over centuries as one way to retell ancient legends and reinforce Buddhist values and interpret Buddhist. The principal rituals of these festivals involve stories told through dance by men wearing costumes and masks. Ritual dances are strictly carefully choreographed and not subject to artistic interpretation. The dances invoke deities of the tantric teaching, whose power removes the sins and bad luck of all who are present.
Below are dates of the principal festivals in Bhutan for 2010 and 2011. These are by no means the only festivals in Bhutan. The largest and most interesting are described below. There are more than 2000 monasteries in the country and many of them have a festival of some kind. Hopefully, you will be able to include at least one in your own Bhutan adventure.
Tamshing Phala Chhopea
Gantey Gonpa, Wangduephodrang
Gaza Dzong, Gaza
Jakar Dzong, Bumthang
Jambay Lhakhang Drub
Ganteay Gonpa, Wanguephodrang
Jambay Lhakhang Sangye Cham
Druk Wangyel Tshechu
not yet scheduled
Tang Namkha Rabney
not yet scheduled
not yet scheduled
Nabji Lhakhang Drup
Thimphu Drupchen & Thimphu Tshechu
These two festivals occur back-to-back in Thimpu, the capital city. is the biggest and most spectacular of Bhutan's festivals and dates back to 1707. People flock to the capital dressed in their traditional finery to receive blessings and watch masked dances and colorful symbolic dramas performed in the courtyard of the Thimphu Dzong. There are also clowns, called Atsaras who entertain audiences. Meanwhile, Bhutanese ladies dance and sing around the crowds. There are also distinctive masked dances.
Since most Bhutanese people believe that they must attend the Paro Tschechu at least once in their lives, it is one of the biggest and most interesting. The highlight of this festival is the unveiling of the thongdrol, an enormous religious tapestry, before sunrise on the final day of the festival. It is seen only once a year, and may never be touched by the rays of the sun. It is believed that those who are fortunate enough to see it are cleansed of all their sins. History has it that despite several fires, the thongdrol has always miraculously escaped damage or destruction.
Jambay Lhakang Drup
This festival is held at Bumthang Valley's temple of Jambay Lhakhang, which is steeped in mysticism. It is perhaps the most unusual of
Bhutan's spiritual gatherings One of the festival events invites the faithful to run through an archway of buring straw. Another is a midnight dance that is performed completely naked except for masks. A remarkable "
penis ceremony" is also a fascinating part of the festivities.
The first Crane Festival in 1998 was created by a non-profit organization to support the development of the Phobjikha community. Foreign visitors pay $50 each to attend, which also helps Black Necked Crane conservation.
Thangbi Mani festival is one of the most popular festivals held in Chhoekhor Geog, near Jakar in the Bumthang Valley in the courtyard of a monastery built in 1470. It is famous for a fire dance performed by the monks of the monastery, as well as purification rituals involving fire. Those who can jump over aflame three times are protected from bad luck for a year. There are also masked dances, some of which are considered to have secret powers. Residents of the hamlets of Tangbi, Goling and Kharsath organize the festival to bring happiness and to insure a good harvest, and to elevate the prosperity of their communities.
Punakha Dromchoe and Punakha Tsechu
Two festivals occur sequentially in Punakha. First, the five-day Dromchoe, celebrates the defeat of invading Tibetans in 1639. You will see plenty of recreated battles, horsemanship and swordplay. In the original conflict the Tibetans attempted to retrieve a "stolen" sacred artifact. The smaller Bhutanese army marched out the front door of the dzong and returned through the back door over and over, giving the Tibetans the impression that the locals had an enormous army. Later, the Bhutanese ceremoniously threw an empty box into the river. Thinking that the sacred artifact was lost forever, the frightened, disappointed Tibetans withdrew. You can still see the relic in Punakha Dzong. The Tsechu is primarily a religious festival that includes plenty of masked dancers.
This festival is held at the "Temple of Good Message," established in 1501, which makes this one of the oldest religious places in Bhutan. Monks perform mask dances, as with all Bhutanese festivals. What makes this one special is that his monastery is one of only very few Nyingma (a very old and uniquely Tibetan denomination of Buddhism) temples in the Kingdom. Very few foreigners find their way here, which affords those who do a very unique and unspoiled cultural experience.
Trashigang is the largest town in eastern Bhutan. This medieval holds a very colorful country style festival attracts people all over Bhutan, including tribal Merak and Sakteng tribal people. The local people, who wear costumes not seen anywhere else in Bhutan, make the festival really interesting. Few foreigners venture this far. In addition to masked dancers and ritual blessings, a large painted thangka is displayed.