Be Thrilled By Adrenaline-Pumping Dance Moves At The Dochula Festival On 13 December
The Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival was initiated by Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo as a tribute to His Majesty the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck for his courageous defense of Bhutan against India’s military occupation in 1992.
By Zann Huizhen Huang
Come 13 December every year, get ready to feast your eyes upon one of the most incredible and vibrant tshechu (festival) in the magical kingdom of Bhutan.
The Dochula Festival, also known as the Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival, was inaugurated in 2011. Since then, it has gained popularity and become one of the must-see tshechus in Bhutan, for both locals and tourists alike.
Unlike most other tshechus in Bhutan which are held within the compounds of a Dzong (Monastery), the Dochula Festival is unique as it takes place in an open-air festival ground near the legendary Dochula Pass.
Spanning an impressive area of 2475 m2, there is seating capacity for 4000 people. The stage is a raised mound which renders the performers to appear larger-than-life.
The site is about 45 minutes’ drive from Thimphu and offers stunning vistas of the Himalayan mountain range.
What makes the Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival unique?
The Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival was initiated by Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo as a tribute to His Majesty the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck for his courageous defense of Bhutan against India’s military occupation in 1992. His Majesty actually risked his life to oust the Indian insurgents from the forest of southern Bhutan.
The site of this fascinating tshechu, located at the famous Dochula Pass with its 108 Khangzang Chortens, was also built by Her Majesty the Queen Mother.
Moreover, the amazing range of artefacts used during the Dochula Festival were created by the Royal Bhutan Army, under the command of Her Majesty.
Unlike most other tshechus which are performed by monks, the performers of Dochula’s mask dances are actually members of the Royal Bhutan Army's Musical Band Troupe who had trained for seven months in preparation for the festival.
Another factor which makes the Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival unique is that while the mask dances performed elsewhere in Bhutan are centred around religious themes, Dochula consists of an exciting repertoire of mask dances which include themes related to military expeditions.
It is also unconventional as certain dance steps from Cameroonian and African tribal dances are seamlessly incorporated into the Dance of the Rock Demons. One can also find traces of dance movements inspired by Chinese Opera and Tibetan Stag Dances.
Five fascinating mask dances to watch
The opening of the Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival will be graced ceremoniously by members of the Royal Family where His Majesty and Her Majesty will partake in the offering of wine libation to the Gods. They will then be directed to their respective seats at the colourful Royal Pavilion.
- Dance of the Gadpo Ganmo
The very first dance of the festival is the mask dance of Gadpo and Ganmo, popularly known as the Dance of Gadpo Ganmo. Five old man and five old women will perform in this dance which is believed to bestow longevity, happiness and prosperity to the audience.
Look out for the extraordinary masks with wrinkled faces, covered by shocks of shining white hair. The masks symbolise the ‘God of Long Life’.
- Dance of Milarepa and Tschering Chednga
This is one special dance which will not fail to captivate the audience. Jetsun Milarepa (1040-1123), the great poet of the Himalayas was on a spiritual pursuit when five rock demons wearing fearsome looking masks tried to distract him from the righteous path by dancing around him.
Despite the vicious dance movements, along with the malevolent display of fangs and claws, the strong-willed Milarepa subdued and transformed them by reciting his famous words of wisdom.
- Dance of the Deities
Devoted to the principal protector deities of Dharma Choesung, a dance troupe of 33 performers will re-enact scenes from the written works of Kuenkhen Padma Karpo.
A very special feature of this dance is the donning of wings made of colourful rooster feathers on the shoulders of the dancers.
- Dance of the Heroes
To pay homage to the valour of His Majesty the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck and the Royal Bhutan Army, this epic dance seeks to retrace and re-enact the sacrifices and bravery of the heroes in three parts: The Farewell of the Heroes, The Combat of the Heroes and The Return of the Heroes.
This dance is granted more resources as compared to the other dances with the investment in newer and more creative costumes and choreography. It certainly speaks volumes about the significance of this particular dance.
Highlights of this dance include the simulation of battles in the jungles of Bhutan, where the dancers will prowl and crouch in response to ambushes and hidden perils.
Get your adrenaline pumping when you see the brandishing of swords and wielding of shields as the dancers perform to the dramatic beats of the accompanying music.
- Dance of the Vision of Bodhisattvas
To conclude the epic dances of the Dochula Tschechu, the ‘Dance of the Vision of Bodhisattvas’ will be performed as a tribute to the various personalities who had played pivotal roles and made significant contributions to the rich history of Bhutan.
One such key figure is none other than the much revered Guru Rinpoche in which all the tshechus in Bhutan are held in honour of.
Credited for proliferating the teachings of Buddhism in Bhutan, it is widely believed that whoever attends a tshechu will receive blessings from the Guru.
Be enchanted by the sight of the dakas and dakinis dancing around the Bodhisattva - Guru Rinpoche.
Visitors can also look forward to a series of interesting folk dances which serve as interludes between the mask dances.
Lastly, do not miss the song which is specially composed by His Majesty the King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk to end this magnificent festival.