Tshechu, or the Mask Dance Festival, is held annually in various temples, monasteries and dzongs across Bhutan. Tshechu means ‘Day 10’ of the lunar month. One of days of Tshechu should fall on the 10th day of any lunar months in well-favored times and last for several days. Both monks and laymen perform dances with colorful costumes, while people gather to witness mask dances, socialize. Following are the 10 significance of Tshechu.
1. Honoring Padmasambhava
The sole purpose of the festival is to honor Padmasambhava who brought Tantric Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th Century. In Thimphu and Punakha, the festival also honors Pelden Lhamo, the protector deity of Bhutan.
2. Offering to deities
Monks rise as early as 1:00am and make lavish offering of exoteric, esoteric and mystic to Padmasambhava and Pelden Lhamo. In the day, the deities are offered with mask dances and music.
3. Ritual for the community and nation
Tshecu is an annual ritual to ward off obstacles of human, animals and crop. Observing tshechu will bring peace and harmony in the country.
4. Blessing from Deities
Ordinary beings devoid of opportunity of seeing the faces of tutelary deities, are shown through the mask dances which will accumulate the karma to see the real faces of tutelary deities. The tshechu is also believed to cleanse accumulated sins.
5. Public teaching
The basic philosophy of Buddhism is taught through the dances. The tshechu demonstrate the afterlives of the evil and the wise. The wise are born in the higher realms while evils take rebirth in the lower realms.
6. Remembering great figures
Biographies of great historical figures and their contribution to Bhutan and world are shown through choreographed dances. Tshechu is also a time to thank those great beings who were born to protect the mankind.
7. Break from work
Often, tshechus are observed during the harvest season. By this time, the crop in the fiend would be ready to harvest. It is a break from their daily activity in field. after tshechu, with blessings, they get back to their work.
8. Showcase beauty, costumes and jewelry
Tshechu is the only opportunity to display beauty, clothes and jewelry. People would put on the best of the costumes, and most valuable jewelry preserved for months just foe the festival.
9. Social gathering
Tshechu is largest social gathering and the only time where people from whole community come together and enjoy sumptuous food and drinks.
In between the mask dances, beautiful ladies perform traditional songs. Clowns, known as atsara, also entertain the spectators with obscene jokes and acts.