Festivals Of Bhutan
Bhutan’s religious festivals mainly take place during the spring and autumn months, the dates of which are fixed according to the Bhutanese lunar calendar. Celebrations may range from complex rituals to the protective deities to simple recitation or chanting of prayers and offerings to the ubi-quitous mountain gods. The best known and most elaborate of the festivals is the tshechu, held in honour of Guru Rinpoche and commemorating his great deeds. Tshechu means Tenth Day, when the good deeds of Guru Rinpoche are believed to have taken place though, in practice, not all tshechu fall on the tenth day of the month. Chaams or religious dances are performed at tshechu to teach the precepts of Buddhism, to subdue evil spirits or celebrate the greatness of Buddha. Performed by monks or laymen, depending on the occasion, the dances wear extravagant costumes and carved masks. The performers are usually accomplished athletes as well because some of the dances last over an hour and involve much leaping and rotating. A holy celebration is not complete without atsaras, clowns who wear expressive masks, make ribald jokes and mock the dancers to get the public roaring with laughter. An important thsechu might include the display of a large appliquéd thangka, called a thongdrol, which usually represents Guru Rinpoche and his Eight Manifestations.
Festivals for the Bhutanese are a combination of both the spiritual and the social. Apart from dances and rituals as a vehicle to impart Buddhist teachings, there is also the chance to meet family, friends and acquaintances, to show off new clothes and jewellery and perhaps forget the hard grind of daily chores. For visitors, it’s a chance to watch the colorful spectacle of Bhutanese dancing, praying, eating and drinking in a uniquely convivial atmosphere where humour and devotion mix astonishingly well. Participating in a festival is one of the best ways to appreciate the essence of the Bhutanese character.
The Bhutanese year starts in February/March and has 12 months of 30 days each. Festivals set by this lunar calendar have dates that vary each year. The government publishes a list of festivals dates and this is usually sent out to travel agents.
February – March
Losar, the Bhutanese New Year festival is a two-day government holiday, Essentially a private family affair; it is also celebrated with archery contests.
Punakha Serda is a one day religious holiday commemorating the 17th – century victory of the Bhutanese over the Tibetans.
March – April
Paro Tshechu is a 5-day religious festival celebrated only in Paro. The famous giant thangka featuring Guru Rinpoche is shown at dawn in the last day, and people throng to get blessings on this extra special day.
April – May
Shabdrung Kuchoe is a national holiday commemorating the death anniversary of the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel who was responsible for unifying Bhutan in the 17th century.
June – July
2 June: His majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuk’s coronation anniversary is a national holiday with parades marching past the district headquarters.
26 July: National holiday commemorating the death anniversary of the third King Jigme Dorje Wangchuk.
September – November
Blessed Rainy Day is a one day religious national holiday.
Thimphu Dromchoe and Tshechu are two religious festivals that follow each other. Celebrated only in Thimphu with one day for Dromchoe and three days for the tshechu.
Wangdiphodrang Tshechu is a 3-day religious holiday only in Wangdiphodrang.
Dasain and Diwali are Hindu religious festivals celebrated by the southern Bhutanese.
11 November: His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuk’s birthday is a 3-day national holiday marked throughout the kingdom with parades.
December – January
Tongsa Tshechu is a 4-day religious festival celebrated only in Tongsa.
17 December: National Day commemorates the coronation of the first King Ugyen Wangchuk at Punkaha in 1907.