As Trashigang dzongkhag prepares for its annual tshechu, which begins from November 27, practice to perform the ancient dance of local deities, doe-gay-bak-cham, enters its 243rd year.

The dance of eight groups of local deities is performed on the first day of the tshechu. Led by Jaro Dongchen, the heart son (thuksay) of Yeshey Goenpo, the protecting deity of Bhutan, 27 mask dancers representing various local deities perform the cham.

Along with the inaugural dance of the Shinje Yapyup Cham, the doe-gay-bak-cham (Bakcham) is forbidden to perform outside the corridors of the dzong.

Given the on-going renovation works at the dzong since 2014, the annual tshechu is performed at Trashigang middle secondary school’s football ground.

Umdze with the dzongkhag dratshang, Jigme Wangchuk, said that unlike other chams, the dance of the local deities must not leave the corridors of the dzong to avoid defilement of sacred masks and costumes of deities.

The Bakcham is performed for almost three hours after the Shinje Yapyup Cham consecrates the four-day tshechu at the dzong’s courtyard.

“The dance represents the once fierce demons who wrecked havoc and created disorder among the people, finally brought under control and made the protectors of the land by the spiritual masters,” said Jigme Wangchuk. “It is the most sacred cham that is performed here during Trashigang tshechu.”

Along with 25 guardian deities from across the country, the local deity of Trashigang, Garab Wangchuk and another deity Tawangpa, also features in the cham. “The masks and customs of the deities are taken out only once a year which is why it is a rare and sacred opportunity for the public to witness the cham,” said Jigme Wangchuk.

A similar cham with the same name is also performed during tshechus in Trongsa, Paro and Wangdue.

In the past, people from as far as Samdrupjongkhar and Pemagatshel came to witness the sacred cham. The aisle leading to the courtyard of the dzong used to remain filled with people, said Jigme Wangchuk, adding that despite the space crunch, people who understood the importance of the cham attend it early in the morning.

A resident and former soldier, Kinley Dorji, said that most dances performed during tshechu across the country are similar. “It is chams like the Bakcham that we should not miss for the rich moral values it imparts and for the uniqueness of the art it possesses.”

The 60-year-old said that ever since the tshechu was conducted at the school ground, the annual event has become more of an entertainment than a means of teaching Guru’s extraordinary life. “Apart from additional labour to conduct the tshechu at two different locations in the past three years, I feel the essence of tshechu is lost altogether.”

However, with renovation works at the dzong expected to complete by June next year, the annual tshechu returns to the courtyard of the 358-year-old dzong.

Younten Tshedup | Trashigang