One of the biggest festivals in Bhutan is Thimphu Tshechu. This festival takesplace in the capital for three days startingfromthe 10th day of the 8th lunar month. Thimphu Tsechu was founded by the 4th contemporary king, Tenzing Rabgye (1638-1696) in 1670 in the 8th month of the Bhutanese calendar to celebrate Guru Rinpoche’s birthday. It is located in the courtyard of Tashichhodzong and is considered one of the most beautiful Tshechus in western Bhutan. This tshechu is seen by thousands of people, many of whom come from the neighboring Dzongkhags (district) to attend the festivities. Before Tshechu itself were days and nights of prayers and rituals to invoke the gods. Tsechu is a religious festival and by attending it is said to gain merit. It is also an annual social gathering where people gather to rejoice, dressed in extra vagrant costumes. In order for Bhutan to continue to enjoy happiness, many learned lamas have established the tradition of these dances. The deities of tantric teachings are invoked in these dances. Through their strength and blessings, all misfortunes are destroyed, and peace and happiness reign. When started by the 4th Desi, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgay in 1867, Tshechu consisted of only a handful of dances strictly performed by monks. These are Zhana chham and Zhana Nga chham (dance of the 21 black hats), Durdag (dance of the lords of the crematorium) and Tungam chham (dance of
fearsome gods). Thimphu Tshechu underwent a change in the 1950s, when the third king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck introduced various Boed chhams (masked dance performed by house monks). These additions added color and variety to the festival without compromising its spiritual significance.Masked dances suchas Guru Tshengye (Eight Manifestations of Guru), Shaw Shachi (DeerDance) are popular because they resemble theater onstage. Equally important are the Atsaras, who are more than just clowns. The Atsara are dupthobs (acharyas) who provide protection. Atsara dances and jokes were said to be able to infiltrate the forces of evil and prevent them from doing harm during Tshechus. Modern Atsaras also perform short skits to spread health and social awareness messages. For the peasants, Tshechu was also seen as a break from agricultural life. It is a time to celebrate, receive blessings and pray for health and happiness.