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Masks, Dances und Chants

Yellow and red gowns flap in the wind. The sound of flutes, trumpets, cymbals, and chanting monks fills the square. Dancers wearing masks move in their magnificent costumes in synchrony to the music. That is what you will experience if you visit e.g. a Tshechu.

Tshechu are important religious celebrations. You will find these in every corner of Bhutan in honour of the great teacher ‘Guru Rinpoche’ (Padmasambhava), who brought Buddhism from Tibet to Bhutan in the 8th century. The tale is told that he rode on a tiger and landed on a cliff near Paro, to the location of one of the most famous monasteries in Bhutan – the Tiger’s Nest.

The word ‘Tshechu’ means tenth day of the moon calendar. These festivities last three to five days, always around the tenth of the month. Each district holds its own Tshechu festivities, often at the impressive Dzongs, monastery castles that are home to both religious centres and district administration (Dzongkhags). Both monks and government officials work at these locations.

Back to the celebrations: As fantastic the myths sound, as multifaceted and fantastic are the ceremonies. The scary wooden masks the dancers wear are true pieces of art. The same is true for their colourful costumes. Each dance has its own meaning, a story from the past, which is intended to help people gain understanding and insights to improve their Karma. Often important Lamas perform blessings at these festivities. That is why the Bhutanese, whether young or elderly, farmer or official, travel in their finest Kira’s and Gho’s to Tshechus and witness the festivities.

Something special during those celebrations are Atsaras – clowns that make people laugh between or even during dances with their jokes. With their red masks and the phallus on their head, they make fun of everything and everyone, making these events quite entertaining.

The mixture between religion and fun is something unique, and so are the people of Bhutan. Anyone who was fortunate enough to experience a Tshechu surely will never forget it.