Thimphu Tshechu is an annual, three-day Buddhist festival that has been held in Bhutan’s capital city of Thimphu every year since 1867.
|2020||26 Sep to 28 Sep||Sat to Mon||Thimphu Tshechu *|
|2021||17 Sep||Fri||Thimphu Tshechu *|
|2022||5 Oct to 7 Oct||Wed to Fri||Thimphu Tshechu *|
|2023||24 Sep to 26 Sep||Sun to Tue||Thimphu Tshechu *|
|2024||13 Sep to 15 Sep||Fri to Sun||Thimphu Tshechu *|
Note: Thimphu Tshechu is observed in Thimphu only.
The festival may seem newer to tourists since it was significantly smaller before the 1950s and because tourism did not become an industry in Bhutan until the 1970s. However, tshechus have been going on in Bhutan’s various “dzongkhags” (districts) since the 8th Century B.C., so that most of the elements included in Thimphu Tschechu are very old indeed.
“Tshechu” has the meaning “day ten,” deriving from the fact that tshechus are held on the tenth day of each month of the Buddhist calendar used in Bhutan. Different dzongkhags have their tshechu on different months of the year but always on or near the 10th day of that month. Thimphu Tshechu comes on the 10th day of the Buddhist 8th month, which for 2016, puts it at October 11th. However, due to the differences between the Buddhist lunar calendar and the Gregorian solar calendar, the date will change somewhat from year to year.
Tshechus are big events in Bhutan, particularly for the large rural population that live rather isolated lives in the remote mountain valleys. They look forward to Thimphu Tshechu each year, and when it arrives, they don their finest attire, fill their bamboo picnic baskets with enough food for at least a day, make their way to the fair grounds, and enjoy the socialising and the colourful celebrations. It is also a time of religious devotion and of large, busy markets. The tshechu in Thimphu is the second-largest in the nation, and people from all over Bhutan attend, along with thousands from all over the world.
The central feature of every Tshechu is the cham dancing. Cham dances involve dressing up in colorful costumes and masks to represent and teach on moral virtues and vices and to re-enact scenes from the lives of the Padmasambhava, who first introduced cham dancing, and of other famous Buddhist figures.
Additionally, tshechus include a large-sized, cloth with intricately woven depictions of Padmasambhava and other items. They are called “thongdrels.” They are very colourful but also very religious, for Buddhists hold that viewing them when put on display just before dawn cleanses the beholder of sin.
In Thimphu, the tshechus also includes clown-like jokers and dances called “atsaras.” Atsaras are thought to protect the people at the tshechu by warding off any evil spirits that might lurk nearby.
Those attending Thimphu Tshechu in Bhutan will find plenty of activities to take part in, including:
- Watch all the various cham dances, including: the dance of the twenty-one black hats, the dance of the lords of cremation, the dance of the terrifying gods, the dance of the stags, and the dance of the eight manifestations of Guru.
- Be there three days early for an “extra” day of celebration on Thimphu Dromchoe. This short festival began in 1710 and involves several dances to the “patron god” of Bhutan, Palden Lhamo.
- Tour Thimphu. You will see ancient monasteries, Himalayan temples, fortresses dating to Medieval Times, interesting marketplaces, and fascinating museums. You may also want to visit nearby Jigme Dorji National Park, where you can see glaciers, glacial lakes, historic sites, abundant birdlife, cypress trees and blue poppies, and exotic animals like the takin, the Bengal tiger, the snow leopard, the red panda, and more.
Visiting Thimphu, Bhutan, for its annual tshechu festival will be filled with events you will remember for a lifetime and that you cannot see anywhere else on earth.