The historic local dance form of Gasa, Goenzhay is now into its 401st years, as it is performed at the three-day Gasa tshechu that began yesterday.

Goenzhay is one of the main highlights of the three-day Gasa tshechu.

As per the local elders, it was initially performed at Wokala, a border area on the Laya side by the people of Goen (present day Khatoe gewog) to welcome Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel to Bhutan. They were accompanying Goenhoptsho lama. Goenhoptsho lama invited Zhabdrung to Bhutan.

Gasa’s National Council representative, Sangay Khandu said the Geonzhay is performed by 21 men from Goen. They perform the zhay during the tshechu. These men, he said, have to practice the zhay a few weeks prior to the tshechu.

The Goenzhay performers wear thick woolen red ghos matched with a black tego and are led by a Zhapey (dance leader) who wears a helmet. Goenzhay is a long form dance category, which is performed throughout the three-day tshechu, Sangay Khandu said.

Gasa’s culture officer, Ngawang Tshering said the Pazaps or performers would have to stay inside the dzong prior to tshechu and stay in the dzong during the three-day tshechu. Goenzhay is not just performed during the Gasa tshechu, but also during the annual communal festival called Tshechudrak in Gasa, which is held once a year.

Gasa MP Sangay Khandu said the zhay has many stanzas, and each stanza has its own meaning. There is one stanza, which honours Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, while another that honours Bhutan.

Goenzhay is one of the four Zhays in Bhutan. Goenzhay is linked to Zhabdrung’s arrival in the country, said Sangay Khandu. Earlier village elders who were former Zhay performers used to teach the youth and pass on the dance but in the past few years, the Royal Academy of Performing Arts (RAPA) has taken on this role.

He said since RAPA is now responsible, almost all four zhays today look similar, although there are vast differences.

Dawa Gyelmo | Wangdue