Wangdue-Phodrang Tshechu (DAY 2)

Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds (Durdag)

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.

Dance of the Terrifying Deities (Tungam)

Costume : beautiful brocade dresses, boots and terrifying masks

This spectacular and dramatic dance symbolises the liberation by death of those who can not led to the path of the Buddha through peaceful means. The core of the dance depicts the sacrificial killing.
First, the dancers representing the gods circle the bad spirits and ensnare them in a box. Then the main god, who holds the phurba (the ritual dagger), kills them. He thus saves the world from them and at the same time delivers them into salvation. This is the only way by which the men and the asuras (half-gods) who become enemies of Buddhism, can be converted.
Hence, Ugyen Rimpoche, who is the emanation of all the Buddhas, took the form of Dorje Dragpa, ‘Fierce Thunderbolt’ to liberate such bad spirits and usher them into the superior sphere of bliss. This incredible feat brought happiness o the human world and helped increase faith in non-illusionary acts.

Dance of the Raksha from the monastery of Dole (Dole Raksha Cham)

Costume : The Raksha has a black mask with horns and a yellow skirt.

The 4th temporal ruler of Bhutan, Tenzing Rabgye (1680-1695) wished to do good to his subjects of Shar, Wang and They. Therefore, he ordered a bridge to be made on the Wangdue river by a mason named Dragpa from the village of Rinchengang. In 1685, this builder along with the people of Shar, Wang and They began the construction of the bridge but what the men built during day time, the demons destroyed at night. As the bridge could not be completed, the men wondered what to do. The 2nd Je Khenpo, Seunam Oezer (1672-1689) who was at that time residing in Wangduephodrang Dzong, had a dream, one night a black man appeared and told him, ‘the bridge can not be completed now because the demons are creating obstacles. To find a solution to this problem, a new dance which had never been shown here before has to be performed, you will invite everyone to see it. At the time demons will also come to see it and their attention will be turned away from the bridge. After you have established the middle pillar of the bridge in the water, you will immediately perform the consecration. In this way the demons will not be able to do any more harm.’ Then the Je Khenpo remembered that during the construction of Wangduephodrang Dzong there had been a prophecy given by Yeshy Gompo to the Shabdrung. The Je Khenpo realised that this was also a prophecy from Yeshy Gompo. Immediately, he sent messengers to fetch the dancers, masks and costumes from the monastery of Dole. When the dances were performed in the Dzong, many villagers came to see the festival and the water-deity of Wangdue bridge also came with his retinue of demons. As their attention was turned away from the river, the pillar of the bridge was built in the water and the consecration was at once performed by Je Khenpo. At the moment, in the Dzong, all the other dancers were finished but the Raksha dancer as if he was agitated by the protectors of the religion (Chhokyong), did not enter the dancers’ dressing room, and went on performing alone number of dances such as Bja Cham, Teucham, Gyucham, Kansi, Gosi, until the work on the bridge was completed. Once the construction of the bridge was completed, he disappeared without a trace. By the time, the villagers dispersed and demons went back to their places, the construction was over, the construction ceremony was finished and the demons were powerless. That is how the order of the 4th temporal ruler, Tenzing Rabgye was carried out and the bridge with three points of support built by the mason Dragpa was completed.
For the happiness of the Bhutanese people and in order to prevent the earth and water deities from doing any mischief, one mandala (diagram) dedicated to the Buddha Mitrupa (Akshobya) was placed in the middle of the bridge.

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.

Dance of the Drums from Dramitse (Dramitse Nga Cham)

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.

Shawa Shachhi – Lencham : Dance of the Stag and the Hounds (IInd part)

In the first part of this dance (Day 2, No. 13) the saint Milarepa encounters the stag and the hunter and his dogs in hot pursuit. This part depicts the conversion of the hunter, Gonpo Dorji, to Buddhism.
When Gonpo Dorji arrives at the spot where Milarepa has his dogs and the stag seated peacefully on either side, he thinks the sage has cast a spell on the animals. Gonpo Dorji, who is fierce, strong and frightening in appearance, is enraged at the sight. Saying, ‘you protect the stag and the dog, let us see if you can protect yourself from this arrow’, he lets fly a poisonous arrow.
In the next instant, Gonpo Dorji’s bow shatters, the bow string snaps and the arrow turns towards himself. Gonpo Dorji cannot believe what he sees until Milarepa tells him: ‘Gonpo Dorji, your arrow is returned, now listen to my song’.
As the song wafts through the forest, Gonpo Dorji is filled with deep remorse for his past actions and confesses his bad deeds. He promises never to sin again and becomes a practitioner never to sin again and becomes a practitioner of the religion. In time he attained full realism.