Paro Tsechu

Paro Tsechu

Type of Holiday: Religious (Buddhist)
Date of Observation: Early spring; tenth through fifteenth day of second month of Buddhist lunar calendar
Where Celebrated: Paro, Bhutan
Symbols and Customs: Cham, Thongdrel

ORIGINS

Paro Tsechu is one of the festivals of Buddhism, one of the four largest religious families in the world. It is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563B . C . E .), who came to be known as Buddha, or "The Enlightened One." The basic tenets of Buddhism can be summarized in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths are 1) the truth and reality of suffering; 2) suffering is caused by desire; 3) the way to end suffering is to end desire; and 4) the Eightfold Path shows the way to end suffering. The Eightfold Path consists of 1) right view or right understanding; 2) right thoughts and aspirations; 3) right speech; 4) right conduct and action; 5) right way of life; 6) right effort; 7) right mindfulness; and 8) right contemplation.

One of the most popular festivals of Bhutan, a principality northeast of India in the Himalaya Mountains, is held in the town of Paro. Tsechu means "tenth day" and refers to the birth of the Buddha. It is also used in much the same way as "festival" is used in English.

The Paro festival commemorates the life and deeds of Padmasambhava. Known in Bhutan as Guru Rimpoche, he was a mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan from Tibet. The purpose of the festival is to exorcise evil influences and to ensure good fortune in the coming year. The highlight of the five-day festival occurs before dawn on the final day, when a huge appliqued scroll known as the THONG DREL is displayed at the local administrative and religious center known as the Dzong.

Dressed in their best clothes, people bring dried yak meat and churra, a puffed rice dish, to the Dzong, where they watch masked dancers perform (see CHAM ). Other festival activities include folk dancing and singing, and performances by clowns called atsaras. Many of the dances and performances associated with Paro Tsechu are typical of Buddhist traditions observed in Tibet and the Ladakh area of India.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Cham

A series of dances called cham are performed for the festival. One of these, the Black Hat Dance, tells of the victory over a Tibetan king who tried to stamp out Buddhism. The Dance of the Four Stags commemorates the defeat of the god of the wind by Guru Rimpoche. Yet another dance, known as the Deer Dance, tells the story of how Guru Rimpoche taught Buddhism while traveling through the country on the back of a deer. The dances are performed by monks who play the roles of deities, heroes, and animals, dressed in brilliantly colored silks and brocades. They wear carved wooden or papier-mâché masks symbolizing the figures they portray. The dances are accompanied by the music of drums, bells, gongs, conch-shell trumpets, and horns-some of which are so long they touch the ground.

Thongdrel

The huge scroll known as the Thongdrel is unfurled from the top of the wall of the Dzong just before the first rays of the sun touch it. It is a type of thangka (a term that refers to a religious scroll of any size) and is so big that it covers the monastery's three-story-high wall. The Thongdrel is said to have the power to confer blessings and to provide an escape from the cycle of existence. It depicts various events in the life of Guru Rimpoche.

FURTHER READING

Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Van Straalen, Alice. The Book of Holidays Around the World. New York: Dutton, 1986.

Paro Tsechu

Early spring on a date set by the lamas, or 10th-15th days of second lunar month
One of the most popular festivals of Bhutan, a principality northeast of India in the Himalayas, is held in the town of Paro. ( Tsechus means "tenth day" and relates to the birth of the Buddha. It is used as "festival" is used in English.)
The Paro festival is held over five days to commemorate the life and deeds of Padmasambhava see also Mystery Play of (Tibet)]. Known in Bhutan as Guru Rinpoche, he was a mystic who lived in the eighth century and brought Buddhism to Bhutan from Tibet.
The purpose of this festival is to exorcize evil influences and to ensure good fortune in the coming year. The highlight of Paro events comes before dawn on the last day when a huge appliqued scroll known as the Thongdrel is unfurled from the top of the wall of the Dzong (the monastery and district center). It is displayed to onlookers in the courtyard until just before the first rays of the sun touch it. The Thongdrel is said to have the power to confer blessings and provide respite from the cycle of existence. It is a type of thangka (a religious scroll of any size) and is so big that it covers the three-story wall of the Dzong, and it depicts the life of the Guru Rinpoche, his various peaceful manifestations, and his consorts.
Dressed in their best clothes, people bring dried yak meat and churra, a puffed rice dish, to the Dzong and watch masked dancers. A series of dances, called cham, are performed for the festival. One of these, the Black Hat Dance, tells of the victory over a Tibetan king who tried to wipe out Buddhism; those who watch the dance are supposed to receive great spiritual blessings. The Dance of the Four Stags commemorates the vanquishing of the god of the wind by Guru Rinpoche. The god rode on a stag, and the guru commandeered the stag as his own mount. Another dance, the Deer Dance, tells the story of Guru Rinpoche teaching Buddhism while traveling through the country on the back of a deer. The dances are performed by monks who play the roles of deities, heroes, and animals dressed in brilliantly colored silks and brocades. They wear carved wooden or papier mâchÉ masks symbolizing the figure they portray.
The dances are accompanied by the music of drums, bells, gongs, conch-shell trumpets, and horns. Some horns are so long that they touch the ground.
Other activities include folk dancing and singing and lewd performances by clowns called atsaras . Many of the dances and performances are typical of Tibetan Buddhist traditions also observed in Tibet and the Ladakh area of India.
CONTACTS:
Far Fung Places L.L.C.
1914 Fell St.
San Francisco, CA 94117
415-386-8306; fax: 415-386-8104
www.farfungplaces.com
www.kingdomofbhutan.com
SOURCES:
BkHolWrld-1986, Apr 20
HolSymbols-2009, p. 692
References in periodicals archive ?
At the yearly Paro Tsechu, see monks in masks and brilliant silk costumes whirl and leap against a background of sky and mountains, accompanied by blaring horns, booming drums, and clashing cymbals.