The Dolungpai Raksha champon perform the dance

Tshechu: Believed to have been introduced by the second Je Khenpo Khenchen Sonam Yoezer during the 17th century, the Dolungpai Raksha is one of the most unique chams of the Wangdue tsechu.

Unlike other chams, which are performed by monks and dancers, it is the champon (lead mask dancer) of Dolung Goempa in Bjena gewog who performs the cham twice during the second day of the tsechu. The champon has to come from the family of Dolungpai Raksha champons.

Tshering Penjore, 29, is the present champon. He replaced his father four years ago. His father performed the cham for more than 28 years.

Tshering studied traditional arts at the Zorig Chusum of Traditional Arts. He said his father insisted he learn the cham and replace him as champon, as he was aging.

He said it took him at least seven years to become a champon as he had to pass many forms of chams.  “At Dolung Goempa I had to start with Neypai-cham, Laynyen cham and then Chamju,” he said. “Only after completing the role of Chamju, I became champon.” His father was champon when he was the chamju.

Tshering said village elders told him that the local cham was included in the dzongkhag cham after the Dolungpai Raksha mask, which was displayed amongst masks from across the dzongkhag at the Wangdue Dzong.

Tshering said there are two types of Dolungpai-Raksha mask. The original one at Dolung Goempa was believed to have originated naturally and is considered the most sacred mask. It was never worn while performing the cham but displayed for public blessings on religious occasions.

The champon said the mask that is used when performing the Raksha cham today was made by Khenchen Sonam Yoezer but it is not known when it was made.

The dance, originated and performed at the Dolung goempa, was introduced to divert the concentration of the mermaid (Tshomem) who was interrupting the construction of the Wangdue bridge. It was believed that whatever was constructed during the day got destroyed at night by the Tshomem.

Dawa Gyelmo | Wangdue