Tshechu, or the Mask Dance Festival, is held annually in various temples, monasteries and dzongs across Bhutan to honor Padmasambhava who brought Tantric Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th Century. The Fourth Desi, Tenzin Rabgay initiated the first Mask Dance Festival in the year 1687 in Tashi Chodzong in Thimphu.
Tshechu means ‘Day 10’ of the lunar month. Tshechu is celebrated either on the 10th of the waxing or waning of the moon in any lunar months in well-favored times. During the festivity, monks rise as early as 1:00 am and make lavish offering of exoteric, esoteric and mystic to Padmasambhava known as Jangchub Drupa.
Later, Padmasambhava is offered with the cham, mask dances and praises. Violator of promises, who bring damage to the Buddha Dharma and sentient beings, are executed with the use of forceful rites. This is known as Drageg Drelwa (Execution of Enemy of Buddha dharma. For those ordinary beings who do not get an opportunity of seeing the faces of tutelary deities, are shown through the cham dances which will accumulate the karma to see the real faces of tutelary deities.
Masks and costumes representing the characteristics of one’s own religious sect and deity and carrying deities’ chagtshen (hand symbol), sacred dances are performed. Dances showing many hand gestures in sign of offering to god are called Gar and showing many bodily gestures in sign of subduing enemy of Buddha Dharma and sentient beings is called cham.
Dances performed by monks are called Lhadei Garcham and dances performed by laymen are called Boecham. The unchoreographed dance is performed by Atsaras.
The defilement of all the sentient beings accumulated through body, speech and mind are believed to cleanse with witnessing the sacred dances and finally will attain heavenly bliss.
Like wise, esoteric, exoteric and mystic offerings with sacred dances to Padmasambhava will bring peace and prosperity to the world. The blessing from the sacred mask dances is also believed to ward off illness and conflicts.