No visit to Bhutan is complete without attending at least one Tsechu - the embodiment of Bhutan and its spirit.
These incredible festivals of spectacular colour, spiritual richness and complex performance art are the highlight of any tourist's itinerary and for Bhutanese, a must to attend. For many it is an accumulation of positive merit enabling them to move towards enlightenment. It is believed that by paying homage to the Guru Rinpoche by making a conscious effort to attend and enjoy the Tsechu, one will create good Karma and a positive mindset.
Tsechus are not just sacred religious dances, they are also the celebration of family and community, an 'excuse' for scattered families to come together and relax, for a community to gather for social laughter and joy, to dress up in their beautiful textiles and coral and turquoise jewellery, and another excuse to pack the picnic basket.
There are many Tsechus - almost all Dzongs and Goembas have a Tsechu with elaborately masked and robed dancers to enthral and mesmerise, a clown to delight the children and tease the crowd, enticing them into giving their donations, and all the Tsechus have a particular unique feature to them. During our trip to Bhutan we were blessed to see two Theschus, or maybe I should say, one and a half. Timing our trip to coincide with the spectacular Jamba Lhakhang Drub at Jakar in the Bumthang Valley and the practice day of the Prakhar Duchhoed.
At the Jamba Lhakhang Drub we were gathered up into the melee, thrown into the chaos of Mewang - the fire offering and blessed by the witnessing of the black hats, before the exposure of the Naked Man. The Mewang is incredible; after the Fire Offering dance, it is a rush for a burning arch - and it is the festival goers, the spectators, who run into the flames, under the arch, entering three times in order to gain a purification from the one thousand and eight evil spirits lurking about just waiting to attack or the four hundred and twenty-four diseases that could befall their bodies, and to remove the obstacles that hold them back. Children sit atop of shoulders, their heads barely missing the flames as they too are carried through.
Then towards midnight the Naked Men come out to transfix the evil spirits, keeping them busy while the temple is consecrated. The Naked Dance is timed to a precise moment - too early or too late could entice negative forces. Apparently in 2007 the dance was performed too late and a massive hail storm crashed down directly upon the Jampa Lhakhang within minutes. In 1995 it was performed too early and thrashing rains and intense winds crushed the festival grounds, levelling the tents and temporary shops of the festival grounds. The omens are taken very seriously.
With Prakhar Duchhoed the intensity was in the practice as we watched in an almost mediative gaze, the monks swirl and float and take themselves, and us, to another level of being.
Click here for more about our time at the Jampa Lhakhang Drup and the Prakhar Duchhoed