The only change in Trongsa tshechu, according to residents who witnessed the festival in rain and cold yesterday, was the guests for the mock ritual of the atsaras.

Known as the atsara lochoe, the ritual is held during the stag and hound dance, following all the processes of an annual ritual conducted at homes. The ritual cakes are in the shape of phalluses of various sizes with blown condoms.

According to a senior monk, Wangdi, 66, it was difficult to find guests during the lochoe in earlier times and only people with some impairment attended.

“But now civil servants, local leaders and business people attend as guests,” he said.

Explaining that the lochoe is to entertain people but also a ritual to ward off evils and misfortunes of those witnessing the event, he said both the performers and spectators could be protected from misfortunes resulting from malicious talks.

Wangdi said it is a sacred ritual of teachers and scholars, popularly referred to as acharyas composed to entertain a god.

A former mask dance leader, Tashi, from Dangla said the atsaras are mask dancers and they had to literally beg people to come as guests. “Now the time has changed and anyone, who is invited, comes willingly.”

He said although the lochoe is conducted in all tsechus, the guest system and serving food and beverages are different in Trongsa.

The ritual, starts with the atsaras bringing the phallus cakes and carrying the lam.

For two hours or so, the clowns entertain people through the various mock session of the ritual, beating drums and cymbals, blowing trumpets and clarinet, and singing songs instead of reciting prayers.

The ritual exposes the hypocrisy of those who conduct the ritual.

It ends with the atsaras serving meals to the guests and entertaining them with dances. The guests give some cash in return.

The five-day tshechu ends today with the unfurling of a thongdroel. In the last four days, monks and laymen from the locality performed various mask dances.

Tashi Dema | Trongsa