Paro Tshechu (DAY 1)

Shinje Yab Yum : Dance of the Lord of Death and his Consort

Costume : buffalo mask and long brocade dress

Jambayang or the Bodhisattva Manjusri represents the body of 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 the dead. 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.

Durdag : Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds

Costume : white skull masks, short shirts and boots

There are eight large cremation grounds at the periphery of the symbolic mandala where the assembly of secret tantric deities reside. In these grounds, dwell numerous beings who are bound by oath to protect the religion (Chhokyong). Among them are the Lords of the Cremation Grounds. True to the oath they have taken, these lords subjugate demonic enemies who violate the doctrine. They offer their vanquished foes to the gods of the Mandala who reduce them to a mere name.

Zshana : Dance of the Black Hats

Costume : large black hat, felt boots and long, colourful brocade dress

The Black Hat dancers assume the appearance of yogis who are empowered to make and take life. They subdue those who cannot be led to Buddha field through peaceful means. In this they show an external anger that is compassionate in nature because of the ultimate intent. On the inside, they have accomplished, peaceful minds. Bearing the appearance of tantrics, the Black Hats expel and kill evil spirits. Faced with their wrath, the five poisonous sins disappear into the sphere of emptiness.

This dance is also referred to as the ‘Gar’ dance, derived from the different traditions of the tantras (texts of Northern Buddhism). The Black Hat Dancers first build a mandala and then shred demons into pieces. In this way they take possession of the earth so that they can protect it. To empress their power on it, they dance the step of the thunderbolt.

To draw the mandala, they use a practice taken from a text called Lamey Gyu or the ‘Tantras without Superior’. These practices are considered so special that they very act of seeing them purifies and clears the mass of mental obscurity accumulated over ages (kalpa). The inner and outer obstacles are thus pacified. Given its importance the Shabdrung himself performed this ritual.

Dramitse Nga Cham : Dance of the Drums from Dramitse

Costume : animal masks and knee-length yellow skirt, big drums and curved drum sticks

The name is derived from the place in Eastern Bhutan where the nun-daughter of Pedmalingpa, Choiten Zangmo, meditated in the 15th century. Her brother, the learned Lama Kunga Gyeltshen, not only saw Guru Rimpoche several times and heard his teachings but also visited the celestial abode, Zangtho Pelri.

While there, the attendants of Guru Rimpoche took on the form of a hundred peaceful and terrifying deities. Wielding a big drum in one hand and the curved drumstick in the other, they performed a dance that left a lasting impression upon Lama Kunga Gyeltshen.

On his return to Dramitse, the lama established the tradition of the dance he witnessed, to complement other drum dances composed by the ancient Discoverers of Treasures like Sangye Lingpa and Ugyen Lingpa.

In the heaven of Zangtho Pelri where reside beings with accumulated merit, the dancers are decorated with splendid jewels. The mere sight of the dance is enough to vanquish black demons and allow the white gods to reign supreme. Men and Gods are happy and gain Buddhahood, the ultimate objective.

Degye : Dance of the eight kinds of Spirits

Costume : animal masks and knee-length yellow skirt.

This dance is about the eight types of spirits who are the masters of the three worlds: sky, earth and underworld.

The eight comprise the Yaksas, the Mamos, the Shinjes, the Gyelpos, the Tsens, the Dus, the Lus and the Lhas.

The eight spirits are evil deities and constantly torment sentient beings, causing great suffering. Their evil deeds are stemmed when gods such as Yeshy 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 return to the sentient beings 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.

Religious Songs (Chhoshey)

Costume : long black skirt, yellow shirt, folded brown coat, felt boots, a circular head-dress and a sword. 

The song commemorates the opening by Tsangpa Jarey (1161-1211), of the gateway for pilgrimage to Tsari mountain (eastern Tibet). Tsangpa Jarey was the founder of Drukpa school.

Arriving at Tsari, Tsangpa Jarey found his path obstructed by a yak. The yak was actually the frog guardian deity of the lake of turquoises who had taken on the more fearsome form. Three of his colleagues, who also arrived at the place, asked Tsangpa Jarey as to what must be done to clear the way.

Tsangpa Jarey jumped on the frog, performed a dance and said: ‘if anybody wants to compare himself to me, the son of the glorious Drukpa lineage, let him come’.

The frog then took on the form of a rock but was no match for saint who made the imprints of his feet on the rock as if it were soft mud. Subdued thus, the frog offered its life force to Tsangpa Jarey. After reinstating the frog as the guardian deity of the place, Tsangpa Jarey opened the gateway for pilgrimage. All believers undertake a pilgrimage to Tsari even now, and experience perfect happiness upon reaching the spot.