Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Kurjee Tsechu

We were spoilt for choice on Tuesday for where to go and what to do: we could return to Nimalung Monastery for the third and final day of celebrations or visit Kurjee Lhakang outside Chamkar for their one day annual Tsechu - which was what we chose.

The 18th of June is a national holiday in Bhutan to celebrate the birthday of Guru Rinpoche who brought Vajrayana Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th Century AD, and the Kurjee Tsechu honours Guru Rinpoche by displaying an enormous thongdroel (banner) of his image for this one day a year.

We arrived early and it was scorchingly hot. The thongdroel was unfurled and as large as the whole facade of the huge Lhakang. We had visited Kurjee Lhakang, the final resting place for the first three kings of Bhutan, back in February when we first arrived and at that time, we were the only visitors and the place was cold, silent and deserted.

How different it was now - a huge crowd that was swelling by the minute of the most colourfully dressed Bhutanese I've seen. Tsechus are a grand social occasion here and people take the opportunity to wear their finest and most colourful clothes usually made from painstakingly handwoven cloth with intricate motifs and patterns.

Bob and I in the bright sunshine, another opportunity to wear my special-occasion kira!

Guru Rinpoche thondroel


Crowds gathered to watch the entertainment.


People were lined up way out the gate for the opportunity to touch the cloth of the thongdroel, circumambulate the temple, receive some tiny 'long-life' pills and a blessing string to wear around the neck. Xavier and I joined the queue that snaked around a chorten in the middle of the grounds, and as we got closer to the temple we were able to watch some women doing folk dances in the paved courtyard in front of the temple. We proceeded to walk under the thongdroel that was being held by men as it strained with the blustery wind. We pushed and squashed our way around and then came down the other side, made a small offering of cash and received our blessing strings and holy water.


We joined the long queue and if you didn't shuffle forward quickly, people cut in front!

We walked underneath the thondroel.

The view as we circumabulated the temple.

Nearly there...

Crowds in line, and view of the Himalayas in the distance.

A smaller, but older thongdroel was displayed at the end of the line, before receiving the blessed strings and water.

Bhutanese men wear a 'kabney' shawl over the shoulder at special occasions like this.

By the time we found Bob we were able to watch the spectacle of the thongdroel being lowered to be packed away for another year. Men in the high rafters of the Lhakang were gradually releasing the ropes that held the thongdroel and once it was down it was carefully folded and rolled for storage. In procession, elaborately dressed monks carried it away to the sound of horns and drums.

Lowering the thondroel.

If you look really carefully you can see men high up in the rafters lowering the thondroel ropes.

The women dancing were wearing some of the most ornate and intricate kiras that I've seen.



We weren't sure what to expect next, but soon a whole army of dancers emerged from the Lhakang. These dancers were unlike any we’ve seen before and the music was also different – as Bob described like a modern artistic form of dance. It was explained to me that these dancers come from the monastery at Dochu-la and bring with them the story of triumph from the conflict in the southern areas of Bhutan against militant Indian separatist groups in 2003 . The dancers wore beautiful costumes that included a warrior’s shield on the back, masks of the soldier’s faces that were all unique and expressive, and colourful embroidered cloaks. For its difference to all the other religious mask dances, we felt very fortunate to witness this performance.



Dancing continued, but the rain that had been threatening since the wind picked up suddenly poured down on the crowds and they scattered in a hurry, many leaving as we did, although by the time we had got in the taxi and were on our way the rain had eased and it would have been perfect back at the Lhakang, with front row seats now most of the crowd had left.


I snapped this pic of the masked dancers while the crowd scattered due to the heavy rain. The dancers kept performing though...

But we had two little boys who were tired and had reached their limit of tsechus for one weekend. After stopping to pick up some fruit and veg in Chamkar which was mostly deserted due to the public holiday, we went home for a very restful afternoon.

 *I have been delayed over a week uploading this post due to internet problems the past two weeks*

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