Tsechu festivals of Bhutan
If you have heard about the tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, you may have probably heard about Bhutan’s festivals called ‘Tsechu’ as well. This weird sounding word Tsechu literally means ‘day ten’ as the festivals start on the tenth day of a lunar month in Tibetan calendar. The festivals are celebrated in each district of Bhutan and have great significance in Bhutan’s religion and culture.
The limelight of the Tsechus are the mask dances which are called ‘Cham’. The dancers wear the masks and costumes to represent the characters based on the biography of 8th century saint Padmasambhava who brought Buddhism into Bhutan. There will be several episodes that depicts the life of Guru Padmasambhava. The festival lasts three or four days. There will be social gatherings, bringing people together from all walks of life and from far and remote areas. People dressed in their finest outfit congregate at the festival, wish each other, renew their relationship, enjoy picnic and also engage in folklore singing and dancing. By participating in the festival, people believe they earn spiritual merit and ensure good health, good harvest and prosperity for the year.Another significant event of the Tsechu is the annual unfurling of large appliqué-called Throngdel. The Throngdel typically depicts Guru Padmasambhava or Rinpoche. The throndrel is unfurled before dawn on the last day of the festival and then wrapped up to store in the sanctum for a year. People rush to the festival venue to have an audience of the sacred painting and get their sins cleansed !
The cham dances started in the 8th century during the time of Padmasambhava. He would travel and convert locals to Buddhism and the process usually involved reciting of mantras and performing rituals and dances that would subdue the local opposing spirits and deities. The first Tsechu festival was believed to have taken place in Bumthang when Guru Padmasambhava visited Bhutan to meet the ailing king Sindhu Raja in the 8th century! The tradition of the festival continues till today; people participate in the festival with great zeal and enthusiasm.
There are several Tshecu festivals in Bhutan throughout the year in different locations. When you plan to visit Bhutan, see if your travel date overlaps with one of the Tsechu festivals. The festivals of Paro (falls in Spring) and Thimphu (falls in Fall) are the largest ones and draw the biggest crowd. There will be huge demand of flights and accommodations during the Tsechu time and so start planning at least a year ahead if you want to visit Bhutan during a Tsechu time.