The Tshechu – a world of fantasy

The Tshechu is a festival in honour of Padmasambhava (One born from the lotus), popularly known by the name of Guru Rinpoche, the precious Teacher. The Indian saint was founder of the Nyingmapa ‘old school’ of Lamaism, which still has numerous followers today and was instrumental in the spread of Tantric Buddhism throughout the Himalayan regions of Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. The biography of Guru Rinpoche is highlighted by twenlve episodes on the model of the Buddha Shakyamuni’s life. Each episode is commemorated throughout the year on the 10th day of the month by the Tshechu which has become the name of a very popular festival. The dates and the duration of the festival vary from one district to another but they always take place on or around the 10th day of the month in the Bhutanese calendar.

Performed by monks, laymen or gomchens, Tshechu are celebrated for between three to five days according to their location and offer the opportunity for the Bhutanese to become immersed in the meaning of their religion. They are also great social occasions where families dress in their finery and enjoy picnics amidst an atmosphere of conviviality.

Religious dances known as cham vary in size and complexity. Dancers wear spectacular costumes made from vibrantly coloured silks decorated with motifs and ornaments. Masks depicting animals, fearsome deities, skulls and manifestations of Guru Rinpoche transform dancers from human to otherworldly creatures which helps to blur reality with fantasy. Dancers bind their heads with strips of cloth to protect themselves from injury from the heavy masks and see out through two openings in the mouth. Music gives rhythm to the dances and acts as a metronome, determining the speeds at which dances move – the spectacle of the Tshechu is truly audio-visual with music accounting for 50% of the experience.

The images below depict the following dances; Dance of the Terrifying Deities, Dance of the Three Kinds of Ging, Dance of the Judgement of the Dead, Dance of the Ging and the Tsholing and Black Hat Dance.

If you’d like to witness the Tshechu for yourself, join me on my next sojourn in June 2016.