5 Popular Masked Dance Festivals Not to Miss in Bhutan

  • March 12th, 2019
  • Asia, Travel
  • Jennifer

Tshechu or masked dance festivals are an important part of the Bhutanese culture. The festival revolves mostly around religious aspect as it celebrates the spread of Buddhism in Bhutan by Guru Padmasambhava. The festivals are celebrated throughout the country on different months according to the Bhutanese lunar calendar. Tshechu literally means the 10th day of Bhutanese calendar and also Guru Padmasambhava was born on the 10th day so the festivals start on the 10th day. The festival usually lasts three days to a week. These dances are believed to bless the onlookers and cleanse them off of their past sins and bad karma.

The dances are performed in open courtyards of massive fortresses known as Dzongs. The dances are performed by monks and on some occasions are also performed by laymen. The dancers are dressed in long silk and brocade robes, with faces masked with meticulously crafted masks. The dancers go through months of extensive practice for the final day.

In Bhutan, Tshechus are an essential cultural experience and we have put together a list of the most popular festivals that are not to be missed if you are traveling to Bhutan.

Paro Tshechu

Paro Tshechu is the most popular among the festivals. Every year it draws thousands of local devotees and intrigued foreigners. The massive fortress gets filled with people to its rim. Locals visit the event dressed in their best textile rich clothes adding to the life of the Tshechu. The festival is celebrated for three days and begins on 10th day of the second lunar month. Series of masked dances are performed followed by traditional folk dances. The whole valley comes to life with vibrant colors and the amazing energy from the festivals. Families, friends, and neighbors gather around nearby meadows for picnics. It truly is a celebration of togetherness. The final day is graced by the king and the queen. There is a really sweet account on why the king visits the final day of the festival; a few years ago the king met a differently abled special kid with whom he made a promise to meet on the same day every year. After which every year, the whole nation awaits the special reunion. The festival concludes with the unfurling of a massive silk religious scroll locally known as Thongdrol which translates liberation upon sight. The scroll is almost two centuries old.

Thimphu Tshechu

Thimphu Tshechu is the second most attended festival by the travelers in Bhutan after Paro Tsechu. The Tshechu falls on 10th day of the 8th lunar month. The renowned festival unfolds on the courtyard of the colossal Tashichoedzong. Staying true to the age-old tradition, people dress in their textile rich attires and ornaments to congregate for the festival.  The festival kicks off with dancers usually monks dressed in colorful silk robes and faces masked with perfectly crafted wooden masks marching to the center stage after which array of dances are performed.  Local folk dances by the district dancers are carried out in between to entertain the crowd. The three-day festival concludes with the unfurling of a gigantic Thongdrol of Guru Padmasambhava.

Punakha Drubchen

Punakha Drubchen is considered as one of the most significant festivals in the country and unlike most other festivals, this one lasts for a week. The festival is held in the massive courtyard of the remarkable Punakha Dzong.  The dances include a series of religious masked dances along with a reenactment of significant historical events. The festival is considered no less than a blessing through sight and is also considered Bhutan’s most sacred festival.

The otherwise dead town comes to life with the amazing synergy from the festival as elders feel blessed and youngsters immerse themselves in different games and play at the carnival-like fair set outside of the Dzong.

Jambay Lhakhang Drup

The Jambay Lhakhang Drup is an annual festival celebrated at the Jambay Lhakhang in Bumthang valley. Bumthang valley is revered as the religious heart of the country. The valley has an amazing vibe to it probably from all the sacred monasteries and the religious history that inhabits the valley. Among the monasteries, the Jambay Lhakhang is rather remarkable as it is one of the oldest temples ever to be built.  It was built by the 33rd king of Tibet; King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century. The king Built 108 temples in one day across the Tibetan border and two of the temples are in Bhutan. Paro Kyichu Lhakhang and Bumthang Jambay Lhakhang are the two temples built by the King.

The Jambay Lhakhang Drup is quite astounding too as the event comprises of a number of very rare dance such as the naked dance known as Peling Tercham and the fire blessing locally known as the Mewang. It also showcases popular dances like the dance of Earth and Sky Heroes known as the Ging Tsholing Cham and the Black Hat Dance known as Zhana Nga Cham and many more. Among a series of dances, the naked dance is the most enthralling as the dance requires the dancers to perform completely naked with only their faces masked. The rare dance is a crowd magnet as every year it draws over thousands of locals and foreigners.

Druk Wangyal Tshechu/Dochula Tshechu

The Dochula Tshechu is a new addition to the list of festivals in Bhutan. Unlike other festivals in Bhutan, this festival celebrates the wise leadership of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth king of Bhutan. The dances are performed by the Royal Bhutan Army. The unique dance draws thousands of people every year including locals and foreigners. The festival is celebrated at Dochula with an amazing view of the mighty Himalayas as the background.

Planning and booking your trip to Bhutan

To be a part of the vibrant festival one must book their trip with a government authorized Bhutanese travel agency. After you mention the festivals that you are interested in, the travel agency will include them in your tour itinerary. They will also assist travelers with visa processing and all the other necessary tasks. You must pay for your tour in advance which is set on a daily tariff of $250 per person/per night during peak seasons and $200 during lean seasons (Government prescribed minimum daily tariff). This includes a 3-star accommodation, three huge meals a day, all ground transportation and an English speaking guide along with a driver.