The Thimphu tsechu (religious festival) is probably the most grand and popular tsechu in Bhutan. It takes place once a year, over the period of 4 days.
As our group landed in the Paro airport that midday on Oct 1, I was already so eager to witness this festival, see all the colors, and simply be among the people.
As we arrived on the ground of the Trashi Chho Dzong (more familiarly known as the Thimphu Dzong), we were immediately surrounded by the vibrance of colors from the locals’ beautiful Gho (men’s traditional dress) and Kira (women’s traditional dress). A celebratory vibe is in the air! Extremely large and beautiful roses bloom along the little patch of garden on the perimeter of the Dzong. I see smiles all around.
The amazing Trashi Chho Dzong is built in the typical Bhutanese way of no nails and no blueprint. One can see how the building is sagging and curved at some places. Yet, it is still standing strong since the 17th century! Currently the Dzong (just like all the other Dzongs in Bhutan) houses both the administrative government and the monastic quarter.
Our team made our way to the dochey (courtyard), and I was struck by the sheer number of people in the courtyard and the amazing colors worn by the people attending the tsechu.
People gathered on all 4 sides of the courtyard as police and government officials did their best to perform crowd control.
Our group quickly found seats in the area facing the main utse (tower). I sat myself on the ground behind rows of the audience that had made themselves comfortable.
A cham (religious dance) is being performed in the main performance area. Cham dances tend to be very long. One takes about an hour to complete. I thought this was a perfect reflection of life in this beautiful country. People take their time, a luxury that we often take for granted and had slowly forgotten. Cham dances originate back in Guru Rinpoche days or the few centuries shortly after that. Some of them are created in honor of Guru Rinpoche, the yogi that brought Buddhism into Bhutan in 12th century.
The Thimpu tsechu was filmed and broadcasted live on national television as well. When we were there, the cham told a story of the 48 days that take place between a person’s passing and before the next stage of hell or heaven.
At one point in the dance, a group of dancers as dakinis or celestial beings came and performed their dance. All cham dances are performed by the monks. So that means the males also play female roles like the dakinis. I loved watching these dances. At one point, I was so enchanted by the animal-headed dancers. Their circular jumping movement went on and on. I could feel how difficult the movements were, yet I also understood how meditative the movements are. What a privilege to witness that.
As the cham was performed, devotees line up patiently in long lines to pay their respect to Yama, the god of death, whose statue is displayed in front of the main utse beyond the performing area. (See the lines of people in the photo above, flanked by officials in orange jumpsuits).
It’s impossible to not people-watch during the tsechu. The vibrant national dresses just make one wants to look at all of them. Men, women, children – all looked so beautiful in their best outfits.
The colors, especially the reds of the monks’ outfits and the traditional dresses stood up beautifully against the green mountains and the blue sky.
But the ones who had the most fun had to be the kids. A couple kids had so much fun following the cham dances that some of them had to be told to sit down by some of the security guards. Some boys were playing football with empty bottles near our seats. And this little kiddo took my friend’s camera and went to town with it. Going to his family and other passerby and happily took photos of them.
To be able to witness this beautiful and vibrant tsechu and being part of the people’s celebration was truly a privilege. Great reminder to always live in colors being part of a community and make togetherness a part of our lives.
My magical journey in Bhutan: Journey back to Mother’s Womb