In the last days of summer, Thimphu comes into its own in a burst of colour and local flair, as the city celebrates the Thimphu Tsechu each September.
Like the Paro Festival, this tsechu commemorates the birth of the Guru Rinpoche, one of the key spiritual figures in Bhutanese culture.
The festival is held on the grounds of Tashichhodzong, and many consider it to be the best of all the tsechus in Bhutan.
Thousands of pilgrims come from all over Bhutan (and the world) to attend. For the Bhutanese, this is a key social event and everyone dresses up in their finest traditional garb, as they gather in Thimphu to receive their spiritual blessings. The run up to the event sees three days of and nights of dance, prayer, and rituals to pay tribute to the gods. The lively dances and music are part of a ritual to maintain a happy equilibrium within the community.
The lamas invoke Tantric Buddhist teachings during the festivities, to keep the demon spirits at bay.
Traditional folk dances like the Dance of the Black Hats and the Dance of the Stags, are performed by the Atsaras, or learned monks. They not only uphold Bhutan’s myths and legends, but also serve to instil a deep sense of national pride in the Bhutanese.
The Atsaras are like comical “court jesters” who employ humour as a form of teaching and sharing the folklore, myth and legend to others in the community.
Today, they also play an added role in communicating health, safety and social awareness and information to the crowds. For the agrarian population of rural Bhutan, the Thimphu Tsechu is a wonderful break from their work in the fields, and gives them an opportunity to mingle and celebrate with one another.