In Bhutan, it is known as Tsechu which literally means Tenth. Tsechus are annual Buddhist festivals in Bhutan to commemorate the great deeds of Guru Rimpoche (Saint Padmasambhava). These festivals are held in each district of Bhutan on the tenth day of the month of the Lunar calendar.
Tsechu is a uniquely Buddhist heritage, revealed in its presence and participation by ordinary as well as elite Bhutanese people and also by monks and various other tribes from near and far. Tshechus are grand events where entire communities come together to witness religious mask dances, receive blessings and socialize. Few festivals in the world are as stunning as Bhutan’s Tsechus, set at scenic Dzongs which are fortresses set atop high hills and the rugged landscape that only the Himalayas can present. These extraordinary festivals are cultural adventures where you’ll see peaceful Bhutanese folk wear exquisite dresses and the air is filled with the sounds of Buddhist trumpets, chanting and clashing cymbals.
It is believed that Saint Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rimpoche visited Bhutan in the 9th century. With his spiritual powers, he subdued the demons inhabiting his land by reciting his chants and by performing dance rituals. Most of such legends abound in beautiful Bumthang region where Guru Rimpoche is supposed to have performed a series of divine dances for the benefit of mankind. Eight holy manifestations of Guru Rimpoche is supposed to have swept across the Bumthang valley, converting the entire Himalayas into a holy region. Today, ritual dancing, also known as Cham(s) is the main focus of any Tsechu observed in Bhutan. Dancers with ornate colourful clothing with long flowing sleeves and masks perform these dances.
It is claimed that one must attend a Tshechu and witness the mask dances at least once to in order to receive blessings and wash away their sins. Every mask dance performed during a Tshechu has a special meaning or a story behind it and many are based on stories and incidents from as long ago as the 9th century, during the life of Guru Rimpoche. In Bhutan’s monasteries, masked dances are performed by monks and in remote villages they are performed jointly by monks and village men. Tsechus observed in different parts of the country vary while the spirit of the festival remains the same. Some festivals also display holy painting of Guru Rimpoche’s life, that are a sight to behold as Bhutanese Thangka painting styles can be seen firsthand.
While the festival is religious in nature, making you contemplate on the good deeds of this life, it is also a subtle reminder of how fragile life really is, and that Karma should be the only judge of your physical life. In a way, the festival is more than just masked dancers swinging their bodies gracefully in brightly painted monasteries. It is also more than the deep chanting of monks or the quiet smiles of Buddhist pilgrims. Tsechus are about how the three realms of the humans and the spirits are collective in a moment. It commemorates the fact that Buddhist faith is a part of everyday life in Bhutan and how it continues to reshape this little but significantly beautiful country.