Dochula Tschechu – Truly Captivating!

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What makes the Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival unique is that while the mask dances performed elsewhere in Bhutan are centred around religious themes, this one at Dochula consists of an exciting repertoire of mask dances which include themes such as military expeditions.

Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival. (Source: https://www.drukasia.com)

Date and Venue of the Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival

Come 13 December every year, get ready to feast your eyes upon one of the most incredible and vibrant tschechu (festival) in the magical kingdom of Bhutan. A fairly new festival which was inaugurated in 2011, it has nevertheless gained much fame and status as one of the must-see tschechus in Bhutan, for both locals and tourists alike.

Located at the legendary Dochula Pass, which is about 45 minutes’ drive from the capital city of Thimphu, the site offers stunning vistas of the Himalayan mountain range. Rising majestically at a height of 3116m above sea-level, nature lovers will appreciate the lovely flora – with a verdant forest of rhododendron trees, blue pine, oaks and mesmerising seas of alpine flowers.

The festival ground spans an impressive area of 2475 m2. Unlike most other tschechus in Bhutan, the one held at Dochula is especially unique for it is not held within the compounds of a Dzong (Monastery). With a seating capacity for 4000 people, the stage is a raised mound which renders the performers to appear larger-than-life.

Another facet of this festival which will take your breath away is the Jigme Singye Wangchuck Mountain Range which acts as the astounding backdrop as the dancers leap and dance in the air.

Origins of the Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival

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 tschechu, located at the famous Dochula Pass with its 108 Khangzang Chortens were actually built by Her Majesty the Queen Mother as well. Moreover, the amazing range of artefacts used during the Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival were created by the Royal Bhutan Army, under the command of Her Majesty. In fact, the performers of the fascinating mask dances were members of the Musical Band Troupe of the Royal Bhutan Army who were trained for seven months in preparation for the festival.

Five Fascinating Mask Dances

What makes the Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival unique is that while the mask dances performed elsewhere in Bhutan are centred around religious themes, this one at Dochula consists of an exciting repertoire of mask dances which include themes such as military expeditions.

Moreover, it is unconventional as certain dance steps from Cameroonian and African tribal dances were 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.

Visitors can also look forward to a series of interesting folk dances which serve as interludes between the mask dances.

The presence of the Royal Family and other dignitaries

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. Monks will also be stationed at various positions of the festival grounds.

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.

Be intrigued by the extraordinary masks with wrinkled faces, covered by shocks of shining white hair. It was said to symbolise the God of Long Life.

Dance of Milarepa and Tschering Chednga

This special dance 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 tried to distract him from the righteous path by dancing around him.

The sight of the five fearsome looking masks and vicious dance movements with the malevolent display of fangs and claws failed to disturb the strong-willed Milarepa. Eventually, he subdued and transformed them by reciting his famous words of wisdom.

Dance of the Deities

Another visual feast for the audience. The Dance of the Deities will not fail to entertain everyone. Devoted to the all the principal protector deities of the 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. Photographers will delight in seeing this dance.

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 in the mock battle dances 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 is a tribute to the 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 tschechus in Bhutan are held in honour of. Credited for proliferating the teachings of Buddhism in Bhutan, it is widely believed that whoever attends a tschechu will receive blessings from the Guru.

Be enchanted by the sight of the dakas and dakinis dancing around the Bodhisattva - Guru Rinpoche. Listen to the song specially composed by His Majesty the King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk to end this magnificent festival.

Practical Information:

As it is winter time in Bhutan where the festival is held, it is advisable to bring more warm clothing.

Getting there:
For more information on visiting the Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival, please contact the Bhutan tour specialist Druk Asia at www.drukasia.com.

Druk Asia also provides very reliable and knowledgeable tour guides who will make your trip a truly memorable one.

Written by Zann Huizhen Huang for the Daily Bhutan.

 


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