About Festivals in Bhutan
Religious festivals are important events throughout the Tibetan Buddhist world – commemorating the deeds of Buddha, or those of the great masters of the past associated with one Buddhist tradition or another.
In Bhutan, in addition to the standard Buddhist festivals, there are yearly festivals celebrated with great fanfare in each district. The most renowned of these are the Tsechu (10th day) festivals, commemorating the deeds of Padmasambhava. Locally referred to as ‘Guru Rimpoche’ or, simply as ‘Guru,’ this eighth century master, introduced the Nyingma school of Buddhism into Tibet and Bhutan. Each 10th day of the lunar calendar is said to commemorate a special event in the life of Padmasambhava; and some of these are dramatized in the context of a religious festival. Most festival lasts from three to five days – one of which, usually, falls on the 10th day of the lunar calendar.
The regional Dzong and remote village communities hold their distinct annual Tsechu festival, providing the local populace with a wonderful occasion to dress up, gather together, and enjoy, in a convivial light-hearted atmosphere. It is also an occasion to renew their faith and receive blessings by watching the sacred dances, or receiving ‘empowerment’ from a lama or Buddhist monk.
The dances, each aspect of which has a symbolic meaning, are performed by trained monks and laymen wearing ornate costumes, and, in some cases, impressive masks. At Paro, Wangdu, Mongar and Tashigang, among other places, a large ‘thanka’ scroll known as a Tongdrol is exhihited for a few hours, at day break of the final day of the festival, enabling the people to obtain its blessing, since such scrolls ‘confer liberation by the mere sight of it’ (tongdrol in Bhutanese).
Of these festivals the Paro Tsechu, in the spring, and the Wangue and Thimpu Tsechus, in the fall, are the most impressive. These festivals are very popular with western tourists. The festivals in Bumthang and East Bhutan attract fewer tourists and those who want to get a more authentic flavor of Bhutan’s cultural and religious extravaganza will be well rewarded.
These festivals attract many western tourist and hotels and flights are sold out months in advance to organized tourist group. Anyone who wishes to visit Bhutan during these festivals should plan and make their tour arrangements well in advance.