Phuentsholing is a busy town. Residents and visitors are always lost in the hurly-burly of the economic activity. A tshechu in the border town is a respite from the beehive of activity and a spiritual break.
The tshechu was special. Unlike in other dzongkhags, students from the thromde schools performed mask dances ending the dependence on hiring dances. It is a tshechu for the people by the people.
The students, some of them from the Lhotsampa community, must have had challenges learning the “robes”. Some may disagree with the decision to let students perform sacred mask dances at tshechus, but looking from the educational perspective, it was a commendable decision.
It is more relevant from the cultural angle. We have decided that our culture has to be preserved and promoted. It is one of the pillars of Gross National Happiness and has to be prioritised. But there is inadequacy in policy and implementation. The Phuentsholing tshechu is a new tshechu. There will be challenges. We are witnessing sacred tshechus in our villages on the verge of disappearing because there are no performers. For a tshechu in remote Lauri, civil servants in Thimphu practice mask dances and take leave to perform at the tshechu to ensure that it continues.
The elders in the village are not agile enough to jump to the tune of dungs and cymbals. The young are in schools or in urban areas in pursuit of jobs. Culture cannot be promoted or preserved if it is not passed on to the young or if they are not made to understand. Taking ownership of our rich culture is a good way to understand and appreciate them.
Beyond the mask dances, the land of the unique culture is starring at the risk of losing it. There is not much we can boast about as much as we are commended. The handicrafts at the craft bazaar are a mix of goods from India and Nepal because we are not producing quality and quantity. The buyers, the tourists are starting to question our creative industry.
We need to invest in craftsmanship. Our ancestors have built dzongs and lhakhangs without using a single nail. That is how rich we are. But today, if we have to learn the trade, we have to depend on our fathers or uncles to teach us.
We need master craftsman. And we have to invest in them because we are a country clamouring for these skills. Why do we have shortages of carpenters and masons at dzong renovation projects?
We understand the challenges. Mask dances or carpentry or handicrafts will not excite our youth, but the reality is not every graduate, at all level, is going to find a government job. We have to catch them and get them to vocational trainings.
There are attempts made, for instance by the institute of Zorig Chusum, but these should be followed with innovations and new ways of thinking to improve the creative industry and attract youth.