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Wangdue Phodrang Festival

Wangdue Phodrang in central Bhutan is known for the Lozeys or the ornamental speeches. Some of the notable lozeys are the sorrows of Gaylong Sumdar Tashi, who was sent as a monk and that of Pemai Tshewang Tashi who served as an official at the Dzong. The Dzong serves as the administrative centre and was built in 1639 by Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyel at the confluence of Puna Tsang chu.

The annual Wangduephodrang Tshechu was introduced by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal after the completion of the dzong. The three-day annual Tshechu is witnessed by people from Punakha and Thimphu and provides the people with an occasion to partake in entertainment and revelry. The Tshechu is known for the Raksha Mangcham or the dance of the Ox. It concludes with the unfurling of the Guru Tshengye Thongdroel where people throng to receive blessings.

Kurje Festival

In the Bumthang district, the Kurje festival is celebrated with much pomp and zeal. It is an important festival of Bhutan, especially for the local people of Bumthang. It is a very colorful festival and different types of mask dances are performed during it. It is said that on watching these age old mask dances, one receives the blessings. Along with the Bhutanese people, a lot of tourists also get together to witness this spectacular festival and enjoy the traditional dances while also sensing the beauty of the spiritual district of Bhutan.

The temple is located at Kurje in the Chokhor valley in Bumthang district. It is a 15 minutes drive from the Chamkhar town. The history of the temples at Kurje is associated with Sindhu Raja and Guru Rinpoche. Sindhu Raja invited Guru Rinpoche from Nepal to Bhutan. Upon invitation, Guru Rinpoche visited Bumthang and meditated in a cave that resembled a pile of vajras (dorjis). After subduing the evil spirits and demons, imprints of the Guru Rinpoche's body remained. Thereafter, the name came to be known as Kurje meaning-imprint of the body. The present place of the Lhakhang remains as a blessed and historical site.

There are three main temples at Kurje:
  • The oldest temple was constructed by the Minjur Tenpa in 1652 on the site where Guru Rinpoche meditated when he was serving as the first Trongsa Penlop (Governor of Trongsa).
  • The second temple was founded by Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck in 1900 while serving as the 13th Trongsa Penlop. This temple is the most sacred as it was built in the place where Guru Rinpoche left his body imprint.
  • The third temple was built in the 1990s. It was sponsored by the Queen Mother Ashi Kezang Choden Wangchuck. It houses the images of Guru Rinpoche, King Thrisong Detsen and Pandit Santarakshita and the Sixteen arhats or the Siddhis.
  • In front of the temples are Chortens dedicated to the first three kings of Bhutan.

Ura Festival

Ura valley in Bumthang is known for its famous dance known as the Ura Yakchoe. This festival that is held annually in the month of May is a festival where a sacred and an important relic is put on display for the people to receive blessings. Myth has it that one day an old woman while sitting outside her house had a visitor, a lama who asked her for a glass of water. When she came out with a glass of water, the lama had vanished leaving behind a sack. Out of curiosity, she checked the bag and found a statue that is now being displayed annually. This relic has been passed on from generation to generation and now it's owned by the descendants of the woman.

Paro Tsechu Festival

The Paro tsechu in spring is a major attraction in Paro district. People come from neighbouring districts to participate in the festivity. On the final day, the best time to go is early in the morning as the monks of the Paro Dzong prepare to display a giant appliqué thangkha, the Guru Throngdel, inside the dzong.

Bhutanese people love celebrations and festivals which are an integral part of their culture are celebrated with much enthusiasm and zeal. The Tsechus are Buddhist religious festivals. During this festival masked dances depicting the events from the life of Padmasambhava, the eighth century Nyingmapa Buddhist teacher and stories of other saints are staged. Trained monks perform this dance wearing ornate costumes and impressive masks.

At day break of the final day of the festival, a large and beautifully appliquéd ’Thanka’ scroll known as a Thongdrol is exhibited for a few hours. This holy scroll 'confers liberation by the mere sight of it' (Thongdrol in Bhutanese) and the people obtain its blessing. Thongdrol is a huge religious scroll, usually with the image of Bhutanese protector deity, Guru Rimpoche, appliquéd in bright silk. The scroll is lowered in the early hours of the morning and is rolled back up before direct sunlight touches it.

The local people attend this festival dressed in ornamental dress and elaborate costumes that are worn just once a year. This festival generally is held during the months of March or April each year. This depends upon the Bhutanese lunar calendar. It is one of the most vivid and magnificent of the many festivals of Bhutan and is very popular with visitors. It is one of the best times to visit Bhutan, as it is spring and the rhododendrons, Magnolia and many other spring flowers blossom and various rare bird species are seen during this time.

Day 1: (inside the dzong)

Dance of the Lord of Death and his Consort (Shinje Yab Yum)

Bodhisattva Manjusri – representing the wisdom of all Buddhas – takes on the appearance of the terrifying Lord of Death (Shinje). His wrathful buffalo face guards the four continents.

Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds (Durdag)

A dance that takes place in cremation grounds. The dancers wear skull masks and represent protectors of the religion who live in the eight cremation grounds on the periphery of the symbolic Mt. Sumeru.

The Black Hat Dance (Shanag)

The black hat dancers assume the role of yogis with the power to subdue and create life. The dancers wear brocade robes, wide brimmed black hats and aprons with the face of a protective deity. This is an important dance that is also used in purification ceremonies during the construction of dzongs, temples, chortens.

Dance of the Drum from Dramitse (Dramitse Ngacham)

A dance inspired in meditation. The dance is a vision of Guru Rinpoche and his celestial palace, Zangdopelri. Here, Guru's attendants are transformed into hundreds of peaceful and terrifying deities. The dance originated in Dramitse Monastery in eastern Bhutan and is considered a Bhutanese heritage.

Dance of the Eight Kinds of Spirits (Degye)

A dance of the gods of the three worlds (sky, earth, underground). The gods protect the doctrines of the Buddha and subdue the spirits who make the world unhappy. Endless happiness is recovered. The dance is performed by the gods (believed to be incarnated in the dancers themselves) to renew faith and wisdom.

Religious song (Chhoeshay)

This commemorates the opening of the gateway to the pilgrimage site of Tsari in eastern Tibet by the founder of the Drukpa School of Buddhism, Tsangpa Jarey.

Day 2: (outside the dzong)

Dance of the Lord of Death and his Consort (Shinje Yab Yum) Bodhisattva Manjusri – representing the wisdom of all Buddhas – takes on the appearance of the terrifying Lord of Death (Shinje). His wrathful buffalo face guards the four continents.

Dance of the Black Hats with drums (Shanag Nga Cham)
A dance to signify the victory of religion over enemies. The sound of the drum represents religion itself.

Dance of the Three Kinds of Ging with sticks (Gingsum)
A dance signifying the subjugation of demons that are obstacles to religions. It takes place in Zangtopelri, the heavenly palace of Guru Rinpoche.

Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds (Durdag)
A dance that takes place in cremation grounds. The dancers wear skull masks and represent protectors of the religion who live in the eight cremation grounds on the periphery of the symbolic Mt. Sumeru.

Dance of the Three Kinds of Ging with drums (Driging)

After the demons are vanquished, the gings with the drums dance with happiness. They beat the drums of religion and the dance is performed to bring good luck to all beings and to wish them happiness. This dance brings blessings to all who watch it.

Dance of the Stag and the Hounds (Shawa Shachi) – 1st part
The dance tells a favourite tale of Milerepa who converts a hunter to Buddhism.

Day 3: Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds (Durdag)

A dance that takes place in cremation grounds. The dancers wear skull masks and represent protectors of the religion who live in the eight cremation grounds on the periphery of the symbolic Mt. Sumeru.

Dance of the Terrifying Deities (Tungam)
Dressed in beautiful brocade and terrifying masks, this is a deeply symbolic dance where a sacrificial murder is performed. Guru Rinpoche appears in a wrathful manifestation to save the world. The dance is meant to show all beings the way to salvation.

Dance of the Heroes with six kinds of ornaments (Guan Drug Pawo)
The heroes hold six ornaments – five rings of bone ornaments and a small drum and bell in their hands. By their gestures and the sound of their melodies, the heroes lead sentient beings from the wheel of reincarnation along the path of liberation.

Kyecham is an accompanying dance to the next dance. The kyecham dancers wear knee-length yellow skirts, and animal masks.

Dance of the Noblemen and Ladies (Pholeg Moleg)
A comical play that depicts the life of King Norzang. The play is full of bawdy and rustic humour as two princes and two princesses, and old couple and clowns enact a story of misbehaviour, deceit, and mistrust. The story ends happily with the princes marrying the princesses and reconciliation takes place as a lesson to life.

Dance of the Stag and the Hounds – 2nd part
This is a conclusion of the dance began on the second day. The saint Milarepa appears in a long white dress and converts the dogs, stag and the hunter with a song. The conversion is symbolised by the hunter and his dogs jumping a rope.

Day 4: Dance of the Lord of Death and his Consort (Shinje Yab Yum)

Bodhisattva Manjusri – representing the wisdom of all Buddhas – takes on the appearance of the terrifying Lord of Death (Shinje). His wrathful buffalo face guards the four continents.

Dance of the Four Stags (Sha Tsam)
A dance that depicts Guru Rinpoche subduing the God of Wind who is believed to have created unhappiness on earth. Dancers dress as stags in yellow knee length dress and masks of the deer. The stag represents the mount of the God.

Dance of the Judgement of the Dead (Raksha Mangcham)
This dance is based on the Bardo (Book of the Dead). When beings die they wander in an intermediate state known as the bardo. They cross the bardo to meet their judgement by the Lord of Death. Also present is the white god and black demon who have been with every being from birth. The dance is like a play which depicts the judgement of a sinner and a virtuous man who goes to heaven. The rakshas are the helpers of the Lord of Death.

Dance of the Drums from Dramitse (Dramitse Nga Cham)
A dance inspired in meditation. The dance is a vision of Guru Rinpoche and his celestial palace, Zangdopelri. Here, Guru's attendants are transformed into hundreds of peaceful and terrifying deities. The dance originated in Dramitse Monastery in eastern Bhutan and is considered a Bhutanese heritage.

Day 5:

The great thangkha (thongdrel) is shown early in the morning followed by the Shugdrel ceremony.

Dance of the Heroes (Pacham)
A dance to lead believers in the human world into the presence of Guru Rinpoche.

Dance of the Ging and Tsholing
Guru Rinpoche initiated this dance during the consecration of the ancient Samye Monastery in Tibet. The dance is a purification ceremony. People whistle to chase away bad spirits. The ging, dressed in orange skirts and a terrifying mask, use their drumsticks to hit everyone on the head to drive out impurity. The tsoling represent protectors of the religion and are dressed in long colourful dresses and terrifying masks.

Dance of the Eight Manifestations of Guru Rinpoche (Guru Tshen Gye)
This dance is one of the highlights for Buddhist practitioners. The Guru appears in eight different forms in a dance that is also a play.

Dance of the Sixteen Fairies
After all eight manifestations appear, 16 fairies sing and perform two dances in front of the Guru. The fairies are Goddesses of Offerings who perform a dance to bring happiness. They are dressed in brocade dresses with carved bone ornaments. After these final songs, the manifestations go out in a long procession.

Religious Song (Chhoeshay)
This commemorates the opening of the gateway to the pilgrimage site of Tsari in eastern Tibet by the founder of the Drukpa School of Buddhism, Tsangpa Jarey.

Gomphu Kora Festival

The Great Circumambulation at Gomphu

Gomphu Kora lies in the heart of the agrarian belt of eastern Bhutan. It is 23 kilometres from Trashigang Dzong, the headquarters of Bhutan's most populous district, and two kilometers from Duksum, a quaint hamlet consisting of a few shops.

Gomphu means "Meditation Cave" and Kora means "Circumambulation". The name is derived from a cave formed out of a rock-face next to a temple that has been built as a tribute to this sacred site.

The story of Gomphu Kora goes back to the 8th century AD. Legend has it that an evil non-human spirit named Myongkhapa escaped from Samye in Tibet when Guru Padmasambhava, the progenitor of the Nyingma strand of Buddhism, was spreading the Dharma in the Himalayas. Myongkhapa followed the course of the present-day Kholongchhu stream and concealed himself inside a rock where Gomphu Kora stands today. The Guru followed the evil, mediated for three days inside the rock cave and finally vanquished it.

Several prominent religious personalities have undertaken pilgrimage to Gomphu Kora and the earliest was Gongkhar Gyal, grandson of Lhasay Tsangma. He built a small shrine at Gomphu Kora around the 10th century A.D. In the 14th century, Terton Pema Lingpa, visited Gomphu Kora and enlarged the existing shrine. It was renovated and enlarged in the 15th century by Yongzin Ngagi Wangchuk, the grandfather of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. He also inscribed murals on the walls of the temple.

The biggest attraction of Gomphu Kora is the circumambulation. "Go around Gomphu Kora today for tomorrow may be too late", so goes a local song that entices devotees to visit Gomphu Kora. And like herds of stampeding buffaloes, the place comes alive, once every year from 23rd to 25th March, when people all over eastern Bhutan descend upon the narrow valley, dressed in their finery, to partake in the festivity, to worship and to reunite themselves with their illustrious past.

The sanctity of the three day religious festival equally draws the Dakpa tribe in neighboring Arunachael Pradesh (India) who endures days of travel on foot amid rugged environs with entire families in tow. Some say the Dakpas have done this for more than a millennium, beginning shortly after Guru Padmasambhava sanctified the place in the 8th century AD.

The Guru is attributed to have said that devotees will flock to Gomphu Kora for eons to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. There couldn't be a more accurate prophesy.

source from http://www.tourism.gov.bt/

Traveller's Reviews

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