Tshechu (Festival) meaning the tenth day of the month in the Bhutanese calender are held every year in various temples monasteries and dzongs across the country. It corresponds to the birth day of Guru Rinpoche (Guru Padmasambhava). However the month of Tshechu depends place to place and temple to temple. It is a large social gathering where people from various villages come together to witness the religious mask dances which are based on incidents from as long as 8th century from the life of Guru Padmasambhava and to receive blessings. The event also consists of colorful Bhutanese dances and other entertainments. Every mask dance performance has its significant meanings portrayed through religious mudras. In monasteries the mask dances are performed by monks and in remote villages they are performed jointly by monks and laymen. Among many Tshechus in the country most popular are Paro and Thimphu Tshechus in terms of participation and audience. Besides the locals many tourists from across the world are attracted to this unique, colorful and exciting culture. It provides the villagers with a respite from their hard day’s labor and to catch up with their family and friends. People share their food of Red rice, pork and Ema Datshi and drown themselves in the revelry of their traditional wine known as Ara.
The religious dances called “cham” can be grouped into three broad categories: dramas with a moral, dances for purification and protection from harmful spirits and dances that proclaim the victory of Buddhism and the glory of Guru Rinpoche. The dancers, either monks or laymen, wear spectacular costumes of bright silk or brocade, ornate hats and extraordinary masks.
Another highlight of the Tsechus is the Atsaras or clowns who are believed to represent Acharyas, religious masters of India. They confront the monks, toss out salacious jokes, and distract the crowd with their antics whenever the religious dances begin to grow tedious. They are the only people permitted to mock religion in a society where sacred matters are treated with the highest respect.
For the Bhutanese, attendance at religious festivals offers an opportunity to become immersed in the meaning of their religion and to gain much merit. The festivals are also occasions for seeing people, and for being seen, for social exchanges, and for flaunting success.
Festivals are held all the year round at temples, dzongs and monasteries throughout Bhutan. Attendance at one of these religious events provides an opportunity for the outsider to experience the extraordinary.