The Gross National Happiness (GNH) concept was introduced by Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wandchuk, the Fourth King of Bhutan, and also considered to be one of the most important innovations in Bhutanese history. One of the policy's guideline is to preserve and promote Bhutan's unique traditional culture and this is most visibly embodied in local festivals or otherwise known as Tshechus.
One can witness the spiritual richness of the Kingdom at these gatherings. It is also a time where the locals will dress in their finest, gather together as a family for a day out and receive blessings.
There's a saying that the sacred festivals of Bhutan are one of the main avenue of promoting Gross National Happiness in Bhutan.
Tshechus are usually held in Dzongs, Monasteries or community temples... and there are more than a hundred Tshechus throughout the country.
Unlike many other countries where "festival shows" and souvenirs are aimed specifically for tourists, Tshechus are not commercially produced "shows" but instead, authentic, local cultural events targeted towards promoting the general welfare of the Bhutanese. .
Tshechus are sacred local festivals and many locals walked for hours from their remote villages just to attend the event. Do remember to respect their culture and also not fight with the locals siting at the front row of the performance area.
Mask dances, called Cham, are performed during Tschechus and Drubchen ceremonies. Adorned in colourful robes, these dancers don masks representing saints and sages, protective deities and various animal forms. Each moves well choreographed with the rhythm of cymbal and drums played during the dance.
Guru Padmasambhava, aka Guru Rinpoche, is credited with introducing these dances which said to be his full and semi-wrathful forms when he subdued the local spirits and other demonic spirits. The dance is said to be sacred and holy and the locals believe that they can accumulate merit merely by observing these sacred dances. This basic, underlying belief permeates Bhutan and is a crucial component of Bhutanese culture.
The Atsara figure is an integral part of many Bhutanese festivals. Being a primary agent of mirth and merriment, the red face comical character holding a phallus is generally thought of as a clown at the tshechu festivals. The Atsara character, however, is more than just a clown for entertainment. The Atsara combines the spirit of the sacred and profane, wit and wisdom, humour and responsibility. He helps his audience not only to forget their worries and problems with his jokes but also to occasionally drop their normal sense of self-importance, hypocrisy and false propriety through his pranks.
More on the different Tschechus in later posts...
If you would like to attend a Tschechu during your visit in Bhutan, you can find the list of Tschechus with the dates here: www.madbhutan.com/festivals