Bhutan | Bumthang

Prakhar Tshechu – Prakhar Lhakhang

Embrace Bhutan Cultural Tour

Bumthang | Bhutan

15 Nov 2019 | Fri

Day 09 of 13

  • Ta Rimochen Lhakhang
  • Local Bhutanese Archery Competition
  • Chamkhar Town Bumthang
  • Prakhar Tshechu – Prakhar Lhakhang
  • Local Bhutanese Store
  • Kiki La Pass Prayer Flags
  • Return Visit – Hotel Ugyen Ling Jakar

Prakhar Tshechu at Prakhar Lhakhang

Early morning we return to Jakar and continue to Chume valley to attend the last day of Prakhar Tsechu (A festival of mask dances and religious performances depicting the rich cultural heritage of Bhutan. It is both a cultural and social event). Prakhar Tsechu is small and intimate where ornate masked dancers and beautifully – dressed local people mingle with visitors. The dances are considered one of the best in Bhutan and are performed by the monks of Nimalung Monastery.

Embrace Bhutan Travel

Arrival at Prakhar Lhakhang

After a couple of hour drive from Ogyen Choling Manor, we arrived at Prakhar Tshechu Festival at Prakhar Lhakhang. Our driver dropped us off and we took a short walk across a swing bridge to reach the entrance area of Prakhar Lhakhang.

Walking Across Swing Bridge to Prakhar Lhakhang

When we first arrived inside Prakhar Lhakhang, we were a bit overwhelmed – beautiful surroundings (structures and buildings), bright colorful outfits/clothing on display (especially the performers), many locals (and a few tourists) gathered to watch traditional Bhutanese dances (famous Black Hat Dance was being performed when we arrived), various music (long horns) being played in the background. It was awesome! There is no doubt that attending this event was one of the biggest highlights of our trip to Bhutan!

The Zhanak (ཞྭ་ནག་) or Black Hat Dance is one of the most popular sacred cham dances without mask seen in Bhutan and other parts of the Buddhist Himalayas. Named after the black hats which the dancers wear, the dance has a deep spiritual significance and is performed as an act of religious ritual and practice, and not as a piece of entertainment.

The dancers of the Zhanak dance are dressed in long silk robe called phoego (ཕོད་གོ་), which is tied around the hip from within using a special prop so that the robe whirls smoothly and elegantly when the dancers perform whirling movements.

The most defining characteristic of the dance costumes is the black hat, which has a flat circular base on which are sometimes drawn tantric diagrams or mantras. The central part is the copula which is fitted on the dancer’s head and tied with a strap going under the chin.

The Black Hat dance is an enactment of one of the most esoteric and powerful practices of Vajrayāna Buddhism. Based on Mahāyāna Buddhism and its theory of altruism to take all sentient beings to liberation, but equipped with exceptional expedient methods, tantric Buddhism advocates using violent and terrifying methods out of ruthless compassion in order to tame unruly beings. The black hat dancer represents a master of tantric or Vajrayāna Buddhism who has the spiritual power to subjugate a demonic force and transform the negative energy into a positive one.

– University of Virginia Mandala Library (Karma Phuntsho) Zhanak / Black Hat Dance

Locals Enjoying the Black Hat Dance on Last Day of Prakhar Tshechu Festival

Another impressive sight was the large colorful Thongdrol on display on one side of Prakhar Lhakhang. I believe this is only brought out and displayed on the last day of the festival. It was beautiful!

Break for Lunch – Beautiful Thongdrol Displayed in Background

Break for Lunch

After walking around and checking out all of the amazing sights and sounds, it was time was us to have lunch. Our main guide Tashi had arranged for us to eat a picnic-like lunch at a relative’s home just outside of Prakhar Lhakhang. The food, setting, and weather were awesome!

Group Enjoying Lunch at a Relatives Home Just Outside of Prakhar Lhakhang

Return to Prakhar Tshechu After Lunch

After lunch, we returned back to the Prakhar Tshechu Festival. We were not sure what to expect next but based on the excitement and anticipation building we figure it was going to be good!

The Crowd’s Excitement and Anticipation Was Building for the Afternoon Portion

Tsholing and Ging Mask Dance

For the afternoon portion of the festival, we got to see the amazing Tsholing and Ging Mask Dance! Wow, what an amazing performance it was! – be sure to check out the pictures and videos below.

After the Tsholing and Ging Mask Dance, there were some interesting female group dances performed. Unfortunately, we could not stay for the entire afternoon portion – we had to travel back to our hotel in Jakar (Hotel Ugyen Ling).

Tshogling Mask Dancers – Tsholing and Ging Dance

The Tsholing and Ging Dance (དཔའ་འཆམ་) is commonly performed in Bhutan’s festivals as one of the sacred cham dances. There are two categories of spiritual beings represented in the dance. The tshogling characters represent the spiritual beings in wrathful form, who take the ferocious forms and carry out terrifying activities in order to subdue unruly evil forces which cannot be subdued using peaceful and non-violent methods. The wrathful masks, thus, represent spiritual forces in the Vajrayāna tradition of Buddhism, which manifest in fierce forms to liberate sentient beings through terrifying methods. The ging characters represent another group of spiritual beings. The word ging (གིང་), derived from Sanskrit kingkara, refers to a specific category of spiritual beings who are messengers of the wrathful heruka Buddha.

The dancers wear wrathful masks. The tshogling masks are of wrathful deities but unlike most other masks representing wrathful Buddhas, they do not have the tiara of skulls. The dancers wear silk robes which are tied at the waist. The lead character also wears the choegoe (ཆོས་གོས་) or the maroon monastic robe which are normally used by fully ordained monks. This character may also wear a chain of skulls across his shoulder. The dancers hold a yabdar (གཡབ་དར་) or the piece of cloth known as the banner for summoning in their right hands. This piece of cloth is used in rituals to summon the evil forces.

The ging dancers are dressed with leopard-pattern trousers and tiger stripe garments, and dorji gong shoulder cover for their upper garment. They wear masks of angry figures with fangs and a tiny flag is stuck to the crown of the mask. They hold a little drum in their left hand and beats it with stick held in the right hand.

In this dance, the tshogling dancers appear to perform the dance long before the gings appear. A musical group composed of a person playing the boroel cymbals and drums play the music for the dance. In midst of the tshongling dance, four skeletal figures representig the lords of the cemetary also appear carrying the linga triangular container containing the effigy of ego. The tshogling dancers break up into two groups, each group led by the champon (འཆམ་དཔོན་) and chamjug (འཆམ་མཇུག་) dancers and perform dances separately. In the final act they reappear together and the ging dancers appear beating their drums from various side, some of them even perilously hanging out of high windows.

In a violent but playful contest, the ging dancers surround the tshogling dancers who one by one perform their exiting movement. This movement filled with playful confrontation renders the Tshogling and Ging dance as one of the most turbulent and thrilling sacred dances among Bhutan’s cham dances. The tshogling characters are performed by older men while younger ones take up the ging dances. Once the tshogling dancers have all exited the ground, the ging dancers perform their dance and bless the crowd by hitting the people with the drum sticks.

– University of Virginia Mandala Library (Karma Phuntsho) Tsholing and Ging Dance

Ging Dancers – Tsholing and Ging Dance


Map – Prakhar Tshechu at Prakhar Lhakhang

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