Paro Tshechu is a festival honoring Guru Padmasambhava – “one who was born from a lotus flower.” This Indian saint contributes enormously to the diffusion of Trantric Buddhism in Himalayan regions of Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan etc. around 800 AD. He is the founder of the Nyingmapa sect, the “old school” of Lamaism which still has numerous followers.
The biography of Guru is highlighted by 12 episodes of the model of the Buddha Shakyamuni’s life. Each episode is commemorated around the year on the 10th day of the month by “Tshechu.”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 according to the Bhutanese calendar. During Tshechu, monks and laymen perform the dances. The Tshechu is a religious festival and by attending it, one gain merits. It is also a annual event where the people, dressed in all their finery, come together to rejoice.
DAY 1 (Inside the Dzong)
Shinje Yab Yum: Dance of The Lord of Death And His Consort.
Costume: Buffalo mask and long brocade dress. Jambyang or the bodhisattava Manjusri represents the body of the wisdom of all Buddhas. In another , more wrathful form, he is the lord of death, Shinje. The dance is about the role of Jambayang as the lord of death. He is the ruler of the three Worlds and protector of the four continents. He blesses the continents before the arrival on earth of the gods of wisdom.
Folk Dance – Woochupai Zhey
This folk dance comes from one village of the Paro valley and is performed by men of the village. They are dressed in white and black, wear boots and a typical head dress made of willow leaves.
Durdag Cham: Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds
Dancers wear white short skirts, white boots, and white skull masks.
On the external edges of a symbolic mandala where the assembly of the scared Tantric deities reside, there are eight large cremation grounds. Living in these cremation grounds are the lords of the Cremation Grounds, the protectors of religion (Chhokyong) These Lords render the demon powerless, offer them to the gods of the mandala and reduce them to mere name.
Zhana Cham: Dance of the 21 Black Hats
Dancers wear large black hats, felt boots, colourful brocade long dress. No masks. The Black Hat dancers assume the appearance of yogis who have the power of killing and reacting life. They subdue and liberate being that cannot be led by peace. They accomplish this by manifesting external anger while being completely at peace within.
Dramitse Nga Cham: Dance of the Drums from Dramitse
Dancers wear knee – length yellow skirts, different animal masks and drums. Ani chorten Zangmo, the descendent of Pemalingpa introduced this dance. It is believed that while meditating in a cave in Dramitse, she was one night transported to the heavenly realm of the gods where she witnessed the attendants of Guru Rimpoche at dance with a drum in their left hand and a drum-stick in their right and performed as majestic dance which she later introduced in Dramitse.
Folk Dance – Lade Tashi Lhamo
De- Gyad Cham: Dance of The Eight Kinds of Sprit
Costume: Animal masks and knee length yellow skirt. This dance is about the eight types of sprits who are the masters of the three worlds: Sky, earth and the underworld. The eight comprise the Yaksas, the Momos, the Shinjes, the Gyelpos, the Tsens, the Dhues, the Lus and the Lhas.
The eight sprits are evil deities and constantly torment sentiment being, causing great sufferings. Their evil deeds are stemmed when gods such as Yeshey Gompo, one of the most powerful in the pantheon of gods, manifest themselves as the chiefs of these eight evil deities. In this guise they are able to subdue the deities and restore peace. The doctrine of the Buddha prevails once more.Happiness returns to the sentiment being and there is great rejoicing. In order that faith and wisdom be born, the dance was performed by the gods who had incarnated themselves into the form of the deities.
Woochupai Zhay (see day 1 No.III)
Dra-nyen Choejay: Religious song
The orgin of Drangyen Choejay can be traced back to the 17th century when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal , the reincarnation of Avalokiteswara and Guru Padmasambhava unified Bhutan , the land of four openings ( Khazhi), and brought it under his benevolent control and blessed it as per the prophecy of Guru Padmasambhava. The Zhabdrung treated his subjects like his own sons and protected them under the golden yoke of the enlightened law. He crushed all external and internal enemies and proved victorious in all directions.
He built numerious dzongs and temples and constructed many beautiful chortens and statues. He also complied and wrote many religious books. He subjected the religious communities (both sanga and the secret mantrayana group) to strict spiritual laws which likened to a silken knot because the law, although it appeared simple and mild, is very rigid and the more one struggled and tighter it got. He instituted the teaching systems in these religious communities so that people have a chance of learning the essences of Buddhism as per the three baskets (Tripitakas) and practicing combined creative and dissolution meditations. He also taught the people to regard the Triple Gem (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) as the ultimate refuge and saviour from the cycle of existence that is full of suffering. As people became very pious, there was a great change for the better in the country.
With such institution building, the Zhabdrung brought everlasting peace and prosperity to this country. This guitar dance was introduces with very auspicious words to celebrate the happy state the country has reached under his enlightened guidance.
Folk Dance – La Ona Ayemo
DAY 2 (Dayangkha Ground)
Ji-Pai Powo Dance
Woochupai Zhey – see day 1 No. III
Shinje Yab Yum: Dance of the lord of Death and His Consort (see day 1 No. II )
Zhana Nga Cham : Dance of the 21 Black Hats with Drums
After destroying the spiteful enemies who persecute the beings and Buddhism, the Black Hat dancers beat their great drums. The sound of the drums represents the religion, because Buddhism has no visible form.
Classical dance ( Druk Gi Pungthang Dechen )
The orgin of the dance of Peling Gingsum ( three kind of Ging with sticks, swords, and drums )
The great ‘ Treasure – Discover ’ Pema Lingpa established this dance.
Pema Lingpa is believed to have watched the three kinds of ‘Ging’, all emanations of Guru Rimpoche, when he went to the Zangdopelri, the abode of Guru Rimpoche.
The deep teachings of these dances appeared to him and explained how to subdue the demons, Nyulema, by magic.
Any kind of demons that create obstacles to the Buddhist doctrine, human or non-human, through nefarious powers and bad thoughts are called Jyungpo Nyulema.
Juging Cham (with sticks)
It is believed that although all the demos, Nyulema, have fled and are hiding somewhere in the Three Worlds, the Ging with sticks can find them thanks to their foreknowledge. They catch them with the hook of compassion, beat them with the stick of wisdom and tie them with the noose of compassion.
Folk dance – Yargigungsa Thoenpoi
Durag Cham: Dance of the Lords of cremation Grounds (see day one No. 4)
Driging Cham (with Sword)
The Ging with the swords purify the atmosphere from such deeds as robbery, killing or the separation of one’s self from one’s tutelary deity (yidam). These deeds are caused by the Nyulemas.This dance sends their minds in paradise of pure consciousness, while they use as sacrificial offering of their body of flesh and blood.
Dance (Tshechen Cho- Ngai Dawa)
Ngaging Cham (with drums)
Gings with the drums is performed to announce the victory over the demons. They beat drums of the religion which is thus propagated and white gods are victorious while the demons are suppressed. This dance is performed to bring good luck and wish happiness to all living beings.
Classical dance (Teshenden Tshogpi Tshoglue)
Shawo shachi: dance of the stag and the Hounds
Great saint Jetsoen Milarepa (1040-112 ) was meditating in a hermitage called Nyishangkurtaon, the border between Nepal and Tibet, when he heard a man shout and a dog bark. He went out of his cave and saw a red stag on the run; the stag, trembling with fear , appeared in his presence . Because of this great compassion, milarepa sang a religious song. Which soothed the temper and passion of the dog and made the stag forget his fears and lie down next to Milarepa.
This dance is generally performed like a two- part play held over two days. The first part of this dance is somewhat comical. the second part has a more serious and religious tone.
Folk Dance (Ja Yue Karmoi Zhungla)
DAY 3 (Dayangkha Ground)
Woochupai Zhey – See Day 1 No. III
Durag Cham : Dance of the Lords Of the Cremation Ground ( See Day 1: No IV )
Folk dance – ( Gungtoe Serigi Meto )
Tungam Cham : Dance of Terrifying Deities
Dancers wear beautiful brocades, boots and terrifying masks. A sacrificial murder is performed. First the dancers representing the gods try to enclose the evil spirits in a circle and then into a triangle box. This dance demonstrates the passage of men and the demi-gods (asuras) who become enemies of Buddhism.
Guan Druk Pawo Cham: Dance of the Heroes with Six Kinds of Ornaments
The Pawos or mediums are called the Heroes with six kinds of ornaments because they wear five types of bone ornaments and hold in their hands a tiny drum and bell ( considered as one )
They dance with the purpose of being seen by both the gods and sentiment beings. They arouse the assembly of Gods and the Tantras from the state of indifference by the sound of their divine drums and lead sentiment beings, caught in the wheel of reincarnations, along the path of liberation
Classical dance ( Choe Ki Tsawa Mitsu )
Phole Mole : Dance of Noblemen and Ladies
The actors are two princes, two princesses , an old couple and the clowns. The two princes leave for war and the two princesses are left in the care of the old womam. As soon as they depart, the clowns try to flirt with the princesses and corrupt the old woman.
When the princes return from the battle, they are scandalized by the behaviour of the princesses and cut off their noses as punishment.
Woochupai Zhey – See Day 1 No. III
Shawo Shachi : Dance of The Stag and the Hounds (2nd part) See Day 2, xv)
Folk dance ( Lhashing Joenpi Tse Ney )
DAY 4 (Deyankha Ground)
Woochupai Zhey – see day 1 No. III
Dance of the Lord of death And His Consort. ( shinje Yab Yum ) See Day 1 No. II
Dance of the four Stags ( shazam Cham )
The stags wear knee length skirts and horned deer masks. The dance represents the subjugation of the wind king by Guru Rimpoche. The wind king had been causing the world great misery through his powers. Guru Rimpoche rode the stag, which happened to be the mount of the god of the wind, when he sundued the earth and appeased all beings by establishing peace and happiness. As a blessing, the first of the incarnations of Lam Namkhe Nyingpo found the effigy of the stag and created the stag dance.
Rak-Sha Lang-Go Cham (See Day 4 No. VI )
Folk dance (Lhasi Poto Teslay )
Dance of Rakshas and the judgment of the Dead (Raksha Mangcham)
When all beings die, they wander in the ‘intermediated state”(Bardo ) waiting to be led by their merits to the ultimate goal (Nirvana ). Beings who in their lifetime had no fervent adoration for the Buddhist doctrines are disillusioned and cannot find passage into the paradise. They do not recognize the Buddha and are frightened. The dance contains more elements of drama and dance and lasts approximately two hours. First there is the dance of the Rakshas and the lord of death himself appears symbolized by huge puppet holding a mirror where his Judgement begins.
Classical dance ( shar chog Gung Ta Lamo )
Woochopai Zhey ( See Day 1 No. III )
Dramitse Nga Cham : (See Day 1 No. VII )