FESTIVALS IN BHUTAN

FESTIVALS OF TRADITION (BHUTAN FESTIVAL TOURS)

Festivals in the Land of Thunder Dragon are rich and happy expressions of its ancient Buddhist culture. These festivals are held in all districts in honour of Guru Rinpochoe, the saint who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century, Festivals are held on tenth day of the particular month in the Bhutanese calendar and last up to four days in which a series of high stylized mask dance rituals are performed. Festivals are also a big family and social occasions. People dress up in their finest clothes and most resplendent jewelry of coral and turquoise. They pack picnic lunches in their traditional bamboo baskets and stay all day at the festivals which are usually held in the dzongs (fortress)or at monasteries. Behind the scenes, the monks prepare themselves for weeks ahead of the festival, involved in deep prayer and meditation prior to the festival. The monks perform special masked dances that are inspirations of enlightened beings in history and the Bhutanese believe that watching these mystical dances is essential to gain enlightenment. All Bhutanese try to attain a festival at least once in a lifetime, and for many, it is an important annual affair where they consider it a blessing to be able to watch the dances. Apart from the monks, community dancers also participate in the local festivals.

The festivals are a rich form of the oral history tradition where the Bhutanese pass on values, mythology and spiritual beliefs through the mask dance dramas. Many of the tsechus culminate with a rare display of giant silk appliqué thangkha (painting) depicting Guru Padmasambava or other important Buddhist deity.

People’s deep faith and devotion make these festivals a special occasion. At the same time, it is also an opportunity to join hundreds and even thousands of Bhutanese in taking part in an important religious and social occasion that often exudes a carnival atmosphere. Besides the dancers and musicians, a key character at the Tshechu is the atsara.These clowns who wear dramatically expressive masks with big red noses and are an indispensable element in the otherwise solemn and sometimes tedious ceremony. Their exaggerated gestures and irreverent jokes provide comic relief when the audience gets restive and only they are allowed to confront the monks and mock the religion. They are actually treated with great respect as they believed to be representatives of the ancient acharyas-the sanskrit word for religious teachers.