Thimphu Tshechu (DAY 3) 

Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds (Durdag) 

This dance was composed by the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The dancers represent the protectors of the religion who live in the eight cremation grounds on the external edges of the symbolic Mount Sumeru. They wear short white skirts, white boots, and white skull masks.

Dance of the Terrifying Deities (Tungam) 

This dance is performed with the aim of delivering the beings by showing them Zangtho Pelri. The costumes are beautiful brocade dresses, boots and terrifying masks. This dramatic dance has a very deep symbolic meaning, namely that a sacrificial murder is performed. First the dancers representing the gods try to enclose the bad spirits in a circle and in a box. Once this is done, Guru Rimpoche, in the form of Dorji Drakpo (fierce tunderbolt), kills them with a phorbu(ritual dagger). He thus saves the world from them and delivers them into salvation at the same time.

Dance of the Rakshas and the Judgement of the Dead (Raksha Mangcham) 

This is based on the Bardo Thoedrol (Book of the Dead), a text hidden by Guru Rimpoche and rediscovered Karma Lingpa in the 14th century. This is one of the most important dances of the tshechu and is watched carefully by many old people in preparation for their own death.

When all beings, die, they wander in the Bardo (intermediate state) waiting to be led by the love of the Buddha into the pure fields where no suffering exists. However, the Buddhas assume both peaceful and terrifying forms. Those who didn’t adore the Buddhist doctrine do not recognize the Buddhism in their terrifying form and are frightened and can not be led into the paradises.

Shinje Chhogyel, Lord of Death, estimates the value of the white and black deeds during the judgement. Also present are the White God and Black Demon who live with every being from birth, and all the helpers who emanate under numerous forms. These include; the ox-headed justice minister, the wild hog-headed helper who takes account of the black and white deeds,  the Khyung-headed bird who holds a small sword to cut the root of the three poisons (ignorance, envy, anger) and a big hammer to destroy the rocky mountains of sins, a lion-headed helper holds a lasso representing love and an iron chain representing compassion, the fierce bear-headed helper holds the magical noose binding the means and wisdom together and a saw to cut selfishness, a serpent-headed helper holds a mirror reflecting all actions, and the monkey-headed helper weighs them on a scale.

All these helpers are called rakshas and they separate the black actions from the white actions of all beings. The frightening Court of Justice cannot be avoided by the damned beings. But after enduring certain sufferings, their sins are washed away and they are purified. This dance shows everyone that if they devote themselves to virtuous actions, they will be sent immediately to the pure fields and paradises. Then after life, when they have to cross the Bardo and meet the helpers and the assembly of peaceful and terrifying deities, they recognize them as incarnations of Buddha and are delivered from the frightening Bardo.

The dance is like a play and lasts over two hours. First is the long dance of all the rakshas, the helpers of Shinje. Then Shinje himself appears, symbolised by a huge puppet holding a mirror. The White God and the Black Demon enter with them. The judgement begins. The Black Demon and his helpers perform a dance. The sinner, dressed in black and wearing a red hat, is frightened and tries to escape but is recaptured each time. From his basket a freshly severed cow’s head is taken, implying that the sinner was responsible for killing it. As the judge weighs his actions, the White God sings of the merits of the man and the Black Demon expounds the sins. Finally a black strip of cloth symbolising the road to hell is spread and the sinner is sent to hell.

After a general dance everyone sits again. Another man arrives, clad in white and holding a prayer flag and a ceremonial scarf. The same scene is re-enacted and at the conclusion a white strip of cloth, symbolising the road to heaven, is deployed. Fairies elaborately dressed in brocade and bone-ornaments come to fetch him. At the last moment, the Black Demon, furious at having lost a being, tries to grasp the virtuous man but the White God protects him.