centerpiece of any festival is the series of dances inspired
by religious themes. By way of example, the dances for the popular
Paro Tsechu are listed below, with some selected commentaries.
Dance of the Lord of Death and
his Consort (Shinje Yabyum)
Costume: Brocade long dress, buffalo mask.
Dance of the Black Hats (Shana)
Costume: Large black hat, felt boots, colorful brocade long
dress, no mask.
The black hat dancers assume the appearance of yogis who have
the power to destroy and create life. They protect the good
and destroy the evil. The Black Hat dancers perform the ritual
firstly by building a tantric mandala and then cutting the
demons into pieces. Thus they take possession of the earth
in order to further protect it, and they dance the thunderbolt
step to impress their power on it.
Dance of the Black Hats with Drums
When the black hats dancers have destroyed the malevolent
enemies of the Doctrine, they beat the great drums of Buddhism.
The sound of the drums represents the religion, which cannot
be represented in any other way because it has no visible
Dance of the Four Stags (Shacham)
Costume: Knee length skirts, deer masks.
When Ugyen Rimpoche subdued the King of the Wind (also the
Lord of the North/West Direction) who was creating misery
in this world, he rode the stag (the mount of the Lord of
the Wind) and established peace and happiness. As a blessing,
the first of the incarnations of Nam Nying (Namkhe Nyingpo),
who was the Guru's disciple, found the effigy of the face
of a stag and so the dance of the White stag came into being.
During this dance, the gratitude of the pious people is demonstrated
to all the beings destined to be converted in the future.
After all the agitations of the world have been overcome,
happiness and peace will reign supreme.
Dance of the Three Kinds of Ging
(Peling Ging Sum)
Costume: The Ging wear knee length skirts. For the dance with
the sticks they wear animal masks. And for the dance with
the drums and for the dance with the swords they wear colorful
The demon Nyulema wears a human yellow mask and appears with
the atsaras (clowns) before the dance. The origin of the happiness
of all beings in the three worlds is the religion of the Buddha.
To propagate this religion in the world, one must listen to
the teaching and then practice thinking and meditating. Any
kinds of demons who create obstacles are called Jyungpo Nyulema.
There are many means by way of magical formulas to subdue
these malevolent beings. The great "treasure discoverer"
Pemalingpa saw the three kinds of "Ging", who are
emanations of Ugyen Rimpoche. This was the blessing received
which explained how to subdue the Nyulema by magic.
Although the Nyulema fled anywhere in the Three Worlds, the
Ging with sticks can find them thanks to their foreknowledge.
They catch them with the hook of compassion, beat them with
the stick of wisdom and tie them with the noose of compassion.
The Ging with the swords purify the atmosphere from bad deeds
such as killing, robbery or the separation of oneself from
one's tutelary deity (Yidam), caused by the Nyulemas. The
Ging with the swords send minds to the paradise of pure consciousness,
while they use as sacrificial offerings their body of flesh
and blood. After these Demons have been vanquished, the Ging
with the drums dance with happiness. They beat the drums of
the religion, which is thus propagated.
Accompaniment Dance (Kyecham)
Costume: Knee length yellow skirt, bare feet, animal mask
with sword in the right hand.
Dance of the Noblemen and the
Ladies (Pholey Moley)
Once upon a time in a Kingdom called Nadem in the north of
India, there was a King called Norzang who had five hundred
queens. One day the son of a hunter received a favor for saving
the life of a serpent deity: he could borrow from this deity
the noose that could catch anything. With it he caught the
daughter of King Driza, called Yodrongma, who was blessed
with incomparable beauty and offered her to King Norzang.
He became so passionately attached to her that the rest of
the queens felt ignored, so they plotted with Hari, the scarificator,
to kill her. Hari caused King Norzang's father to have a dream
prophesizing that if the enemies in the North were not vanquished
immediately, the Kingdom would not survive. Obeying this command
King Norzang was forced to leave his beloved queen, for he
was not able to take a lady with him to war. After a tearful
farewell she gave him her ring, the white silk covering her
head and other souvenirs. He then left for the North and conquered
the enemies. When he returned victorious to his country after
many battles, he was full of remorse to find that his Yudrongma
had fled to her father's due to the cunning evil schemes formed
by the other queens. After many obstacles on the lovers' path,
they are finally united to live happily ever after.
Accompaniment Dance (Kyecham)
Dance of the Stag and the Hounds
(Shawa Shachi) - 1st Part.
Long ago, Jetsun Milarepa (1040-1123) was deeply meditating
in a hermitage called Nyichangkurta on the border between
Nepal and Tibet, when he heard a dog barking and a man shouting.
He went outside and saw a red haired stag sweating and trembling
with fear. The compassionate Milarepa soothed the stag by
singing a religious song, who then forgot all his fear and
sat down to the right of Milarepa. Following fast behind,
a red dog arrived full of fiery wrath and Milarepa too calmed
the temper and allayed the passion of the dog, who then lay
down on the left of the great saint. Then the hunter, called
Gonpo Dorji came close behind. He was a fierce and strong
man carrying a bow and arrows. When he saw the stag and the
dog all sitting peacefully by the great saint, he wondered
if Milarepa had cast a spell on them, and in his rage he shot
poisonous arrows at him. But Gonpo Dorji's arrow bow broke
into pieces, the string of the bow got cut and the arrow turned
against him. Gonpo Dorji was full of incredulity and Milarepa
told him, "Gonpo Dorji, your arrow is returned, now listen
to my song". As Milarepa was singing, Gonpo Dorji felt
remorse for all his actions and confessed all his bad deeds.
He promised to take an oath not to sin again and he practiced
the religion and gained full realization.
This dance is generally performed like a play in two parts.
The first part takes place the first day while the second
part is on the second day of the Tsechu. Usually two dogs
are portrayed instead of only one. The first part is comical:
the hunter's servant enters and jokes with the clowns. Then
comes the hunter crowned with leaves and carrying a bow and
arrows, accompanied by his two dogs, dancers wearing knee-length
yellow skirts and dog masks. The servants joke very disrespectfully
with their master who is preparing to perform a good luck
ritual for his hunt. The priest called to perform the ritual
does it in ways contrary to the Buddhist tradition, while
the atsaras and the servants to go on with their jokes. The
second part has a more serious and religious tone. Milarepa
appears, wearing a long white dress, a tall red hat and holding
a pilgrim's staff. He sings with a soft voice and has his
right hand near his ear. The two dogs, the stag and the hunter
arrive in Milarepa's presence and he converts them with his
song. A rope that the dogs and the hunter have to jump over
symbolizes the conversion.
Dance of the Lords of the Cremation
Costume: White short skirt, White Boots, White Skull Masks.
On the external edges of the Mandala, where the assembly of
the secret Tantric deities are residing, there are eight large
cremation grounds. Living in the cremation grounds are numerous
protectors of the religion (Chokkyong) who are bound by an
oath, and among them are the Lords of the Cremation Grounds
who protects these areas. Because of a promise they had accepted
before, and from which they cannot be diverted even for an
instant, these Lords render powerless the assembly of demonic
enemies who have violated their oath of not harming the Doctrine.
They offer them to the Gods of the Mandala and they reduce
them to a mere name. They also help to develop a monk body
that follows the doctrine, including teaching and meditation.
They show all the beings that revere the doctrine how to perform
actions leading to a good rebirth.
Dance of the Terrifying Deities
Costume: Beautiful brocade dresses, boots and terrifying masks.
This very spectacular and dramatic dance has a very deep symbolic
meaning. A sacrificial murder is performed. First the dancers
representing the Gods try to enclose the evil spirits in a
magic circle and then hold them in a box. Then the leader
of the Gods uses the sacred dagger, the Phurbu, killing them
and delivering them into salvation. He thus saves the world
from them. The men and the asuras (demi-gods), who became
the enemies of Buddhism and who are impossible to be converted
by peaceful means, are converted by Ugyen Rimpoche, who takes
the form of Dorji Dragpo "Fierce Thunderbolt". By
slaying these enemies he liberates them into a superior sphere
of bliss. By performing such an incredible feat, resulting
in the happiness of the human world, he thus helps increase
faith in non-illusionary acts.
Dance of the Raksha from Dole
Monastery (Dole Raksha Cham)
Costume: The Raksha has a black mask with horns and yellow
The 4th Temporal ruler of Bhutan, Tenzin Rabgye (1680-1695),
wished to do good to his subjects of Shar and Wang. He ordered
a bridge to be built on the Wangdi river by a mason named
Dragpa from the Village of Rinchengang. In 1685, this builder,
along with the people of Shar and Wang, began the construction
of the bridge. But what the people built during the daytime
the demons undid at night. As the bridge could not be completed
the people were left in a fix. The 2nd Je Khempo, Seunam Oezer
(1672-1689), who was at that time residing in the Wangdiphodrang
Dzong, dreamt of a black man who told him that to overcome
the obstacles created by the demons a new dance which had
never been performed before had to be created. When everyone
came to see the dance, the demons too would be attracted to
come and watch, and then when the demons had their attention
on the dance, the middle pillar of the bridge must be established
and the consecration performed immediately. In this way the
demons would not be able to harm the structure.
The Je Khempo remembered that during the construction of
the Wangdiphodrang Dzong, there had been a prophecy given
by Yeshey Gonpo to the Shabdrung. The Je Khenpo realized that
this was also a prophecy from Yeshey Gonpo. He immediately
sent for the dancers, masks and costumes from the monastery
of Dole. The festival began, many people came and among them
was the water deity of the Wangdi bridge and his retinue of
demons. As their attention was turned away from the river,
the pillar was built in the river and the consecration performed
at once. While at the Dzong all the other dances were finished,
the Raksha dancer alone went on performing a number of dances
such as the Bja Cham, Teucham, Gyucham, Kansi and Gosi, until
the work on the bridge was completed. As soon as the bridge
was completed the dancer disappeared without a trace. By the
time everything was over, the demons realized that it was
too late and they were powerless. For the happiness of the
Bhutanese people, and in order to prevent any other harm,
a mandala dedicated to the Buddha Mitrupa (Akshobya) was placed
in the middle of the bridge.
Dance of the Judgment of Dead
Costume: The Raksha has a black mask and a yellow skirt
Dance of the Drum Beaters (Dramitse
Costume: Knee length yellow skirts, animal masks, big drums
Dance of the Stag and the Hounds (Shawa
Shachi) - 2nd Part
Dance of the Heroes (Pacham)
Costume: Knee length yellow skirts and golden crowns (rina),
no mask. They are holding a small bell (drilbu) and a small
The great "Treasure Discoverer" Pemalingpa arrived
at the Zangdopelri, a marvelous palace of lotus beams which
reflected his infinite wisdom as large and deep as the sky.
There he arrived in the presence of Ugyen Rimpoche, the Lord
who leads the beings of the Three Worlds, sitting with his
disciples in the center of a limitless mandala made of lines
of rainbow beams. Within the mandala, the assembly of sages,
tutelary deities, heroes (pawos) and heroines (Khandoms pamo)
were dancing in the form of the various emanations of the
peaceful and terrifying deities. All sorts of dances were
performed and every kind of harmonious melody was sung, with
the sounds of the religion of the Great Path (Northern branch
of Buddhism). Among this congregation, the assembly of the
heroes and the heroines is the most important. They are as
numerous as the moving clouds and their function is to lead
the souls of the beings who follow the true faith into the
presence of Ugyen Rimpoche, where eternal happiness is attained.
Dance of the Lord of the Cremation Grounds
Dance of the Tsholing and the
Ging (Ging Tsholing)
Costume: The Tsoling have long colorful dresses and wear terrifying
masks. The Ging wear orange skirts, terrifying black masks
with a flag on top and hold a big drumstick.
Dance of the Eight Manifestations
of Guru Rimpoche (Guru Tshen Gye)
Ugyen Rimpoche is the second Buddha and the incarnation of
Avalokiteshvara (Thuje Chenpo), Lord of Compassion. When Buddha
was about to Enter Nirvana he told his disciples, "Do
not be sad, I will come again from the West". Thus he
reappeared as Ugyen Rimpoche, "Master of the Great Teaching
Without Any Attachment". All the virtues of Buddha's
body speech and mind were summed up in Ugyen Rimpoche, who
vowed to guide the beings of this world through his eight
1. Guru Tshokye Dorji meaning diamond thunderbolt, born from
the Lake Danakosha on a blue lotus in Oddhiyana, and adopted
by King Indrabhuti.
2. He renounced his Kingdom and went to receive teachings
from the Master Prabhahasti in the Maratika Cave in Nepal.
Thus he was called Guru Shakya Sengye "the Lion of the
3. After having listened to all the teachings of the Vajrayana
"the Diamond Path", and after having mastered the
Science of the Pandits, he obtained full realization and was
able too see the Gods and the Tutelary deities (yidam). Then
he was called Guru Loden Chogsey "Guru who Acquired the
4. After his marriage with the daughter of the King of Zahor,
he was condemned by the king to be burnt. But Guru turned
the pyre into a lake and converted the Kingdom to Buddhism.
Thus he was called Guru Padmasambhava "Born from the
5. When he returned to Oddhiyana, the evil chiefs of the
country wanted to burn him but the fire would not do so, so
they offered him the Kingdom. Thus he came to be called Guru
Pema Gyelpo "Lotus King".
6. When he was preaching to the Khandoms in the eight cremation
grounds, he caught the "life force" of the evil
deities and made them the protectors of the Doctrine. Thus
he was called Nima Ozer "the Sunbeam".
7. He vanquished the enemies of the Doctrine by the Sheer
power of his words and then brought down the thunderbolt and
burnt them. Thus he came to be called Sengye Drathok "One
who Conquers the Enemy with a Lion Voice".
8. When he was at Sengye Dzong in Kurtoe and at Taktsang
in Paro, he was in the form of "Dorji Dragpo". He
subdued all the evil force and came to be called Dorji Droloe,
Dance of the Sixteen Fairies (Rigna