Mask dances are very popular in Bhutan, and there are several occasions which offer you the chance to enjoy these. One of these occasions is the Punakha Tshechu festival in Bhutan, an event which is held once every year inside the Punakha Dzong. Besides being the administrative center of the district of Punakha, it is the second oldest as well as the second largest dzong in Bhutan. It always finds a mention as a must visit place in every Bhutan travel guide, both for its historical and cultural significance.
The word Tsechu means “tenth”, and this festival, too, is celebrated on the 10th day of the Bhutanese calendar. This date is also associated with a significant religious event, the birth anniversary of Guru Rinpoche. Also known as Padmasambhava, he was a philosopher and master of Buddhism who lived around the 8th century. In fact, he is held in such high esteem by his followers that he is honoured as “the second Buddha” by followers of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. Apart from Punakha, Punakha Tshechu, one of the most popular festivals in Bhutan, is celebrated in all the 20 districts of Bhutan.
The festival is marked by giant offerings to Guru Rinpoche and other local deities. One of the main attractions of the festival is the colorful and exciting mask dances. Clad in scary looking masks which frighten and intrigue onlookers, performers perform a series of brilliantly synchronized movements. Local villagers too join in the celebrations, with their local songs and dance. The mask dances, which are performed during the festival, are called Cham. They depict numerous incidents from the life of the great Buddhist saint and teacher, Guru Padmasambhava. Monks participating in the group dances don’t wear masks usually, and even their dance movements are quite subtle and graceful. The common people, on the other hand, always wear masks, and display a considerable degree of athleticism in their dance movements. Women also participate in the festival by singing songs accompanied by minimal dance movements.
On this occasion, all government and private schools remain closed. This is all done to ensure that everybody participates in the celebrations and appreciates the significance and meaning of it. The highlight of the festival is the unfolding of an enormous thangka (a Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton or silk applique which depicts a particular Buddhist deity or scene).
If you ever visit Bhutan during February/March, don’t forget to attend the festival of Punakha Tshechu. Not only will you get a glimpse into its traditions, heritage and culture, you will also getting some exciting opportunities for photography.
Like other Tsechus which are held in various districts of Bhutan, the Punakha Tshechu is held on the tenth day of the month of the lunar Tibetan calendar. The festival is celebrated over a period of three days.
The Punakha Tshechu festival is held in the district of Punakha, which is located in the western part of Bhutan. The citizens of India, Bangladesh and Maldives are not required to obtain a visa for visiting the country. However, citizens not belonging to these countries will have to obtain a Bhutan visa for visiting the country. When you plan a trip to Bhutan, do not forget to attend this festival.
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