At 7 am, the residents of Lungnyi in Paro are adorned in their traditional attire, awaiting the arrival of the gup at the gewog office. Following customary reception ceremonies, they escort the gup to the Dzongkdrakha monastery.

Under the gup’s guidance, the community proceeds to the monastery to partake in the venerable Dzongdrakha Tsechu, an age-old tradition deeply ingrained in the fabric of the gewog’s heritage.

The Dzongdrakha Tsechu transcends its local significance, extending its cultural and traditional roots beyond the boundaries of Lungnyi Gewog in Paro.

This is not merely an event confined to a specific location; rather, it embodies a timeless tradition deeply entrenched in the hearts of the community. It follows the customary practice of commencing a day before the renowned Paro Tsechu and concluding a day after, a ritual that has persevered unchanged for generations.

According to tradition and practice, the Paro Tsechu, renowned as one of the country’s most celebrated festivals, commences and concludes at the sacred grounds of Dzongdrakha. This customary arrangement links the profound connection between the festival and the monastery.

Perched dramatically on the cliff face, the Dzongdrakha Monastery serves as the picturesque setting for the Dzongdrakha Tsechu. Often likened to the Taktsang Monastery due to its elevated location and challenging uphill trail, Dzongdrakha holds a special place in the hearts of locals and visitors alike.

Conversations with the local community reveal a deeply ingrained belief: the Dzongdrakha Tsechu serves as the herald for the renowned Paro Tsechu. According to tradition, the festivities of the Paro Tsechu cannot commence until after the conclusion of the Dzongdrakha Tsechu. The ceremonial journey then continues within the Rinpung Dzong before culminating once more at the sacred Dzongdrakha Monastery.

Dzongdrakha Festival commences on the 10th day of the 2nd Bhutanese month and concludes on the 16th day of the same month. This year, the festival occurred on March 19.

Despite its brevity, lasting only a day, the Tsechu holds significant cultural and spiritual importance for the community of Lungnyi Gewog and beyond.

Legend has it that the Paro Tshechu owes its origins to Drupthop Gonpo Dorji, the revered figure credited with founding the Dzongdrakha Monastery. This spiritual legacy links with the cultural tapestry of the region, enriching the significance of both the Paro Tshechu and the venerable monastery.

The community, comprising residents from five different chiwogs along with others, emphasises the significance of the Dzongdrakha Tshechu. Their collective belief resonates with the idea that attending the Paro Tshechu alone would not suffice to accumulate merits; participation in the Dzongdrakha Tshechu is deemed equally essential.

The tsechu

According to Lam Tashi Dorji from the monastery, the origins of this tsechu date back several centuries, pre-dating the Paro Tshechu. It is believed that Gonpo Dorji established this unique festival at the monastery. While there is no surviving Namthar (written scripture) documenting its history, oral traditions passed down by elders suggest that the tsechu was subsequently replicated in Paro based on the practices observed at Dzongdrakha.

“This is why it is customary for the Dzongdrakha Tshechu to commence before the Paro Tshechu. Its significance lies in the tradition that has kept the community together and blessed,” said Tashi Dorji, who oversees the monastery.

In his paper, “Luminaries and Legacies of Nenyingpa in Western Bhutan,” author Dorji Penjore mentioned that this monastery was founded by Gonpo Dorji (dgon po rdo rje), who was sent to western Bhutan to reveal a hidden treasure by Rinchen Samten Palzang (1262-1311), a descendant of Koncho Khar. It is said that Gonpo Dorji settled in Dzongdrakha and started the Dzongdrakha nobility (chos rje) family in Paro.

“He arrived at Paro, revealed Dzongdrakha, and discovered a treasure of a crystal stupa, which today remains enshrined in a larger stupa,” Dorji Penjore says.

Today, one can observe the stupa named Chorten Gulshey Karmo, a sacred structure believed to occasionally tremble during offerings. Lam Tashi Dorji mentioned that due to the belief that the stupa might fly away, it has been enclosed by a wall and a roof. However, a small door remains for individuals to make offerings and catch a glimpse of the stupa.

The monastery hosts Tsheringma Lhakhang, dedicated to the goddess of longevity, as well as shrines for Guru Rinpoche, Tara, and Maitreya (the future Buddha).


Choe Zhey, a dharma song, plays a significant role in the Dzongdrakha tsechu, surpassing its typical role as mere entertainment in other festivals. It serves as the primary performance, symbolising a spiritual offering of melody to invoke blessings upon the community, accompanied by a commitment to abstain from wrongdoing. Beginning with the Zhey Chham and concluding with the same, this ritual highlights the festival’s spiritual essence.

The attire of the Zhoep, the performer of Choe Zhey, is inspired by a bird frequently sighted above the monastery, believed to be its guardian. The white gho and black tego worn by the performer symbolise the bird’s body and feathers, respectfully embodying the spirit of the respected guide.

Although Choe Zhey was considered as the chham in the olden days later, chhams like Berkor Chham (circumambulatory procession), Jipai Pawo (dance of the honour guards), Durdag, Pa Cham, Dramitse Nga Chham, and Raksha Chham were also included.

Community dynamics

The community has ingeniously preserved its customs, with each of the five chiwogs taking turns annually to participate in the Choe Zhey ceremony and traditional dances performed by women. Men are obligated to perform as Choe Zhey as zhoep.

Regardless of the availability of performers, each chiwog community is obligated to organise and partake in the tsechu on turns. According to Lungnyi gup Jamtsho, this inclusivity ensures active community engagement.

He added that it is customary for the gup and lam to be welcomed in the open space where the tsechu is held, a tradition symbolising the community’s invitation for their blessings.

The gup also traditionally wears a sword (patang) on this occasion representing as a head. While historically, the gup bore the financial responsibility of hosting the festival, the gewog now allocates a budget of approximately Nu 0.1M to accommodate evolving costs.

As the tsechu concluded and the women completed their final dance, they shared light-hearted jokes amongst themselves, suggesting that perhaps this is why Lungnyi has never had a female gup.

They jokingly commented that only a man can continue this tradition as the head of the gewog wearing a patang.


Contributed by

Yangchen C Rinzin

Centre for Bhutan & GNH Studies