Chandra Bahadur Tamang was 18 years old when he first wore a mask and performed during the first Tsirang Tsechu in 2000. He has been a regular mask dancer since then.

He was practicing for Tsirang Tsechu that began yesterday.

For 17 years, he enjoyed every bit of his career as a mask dancer. Although interested to perform, he often had to force himself to come forward. A month-long preparation before the annual tsechu meant forgoing other important work in the village.

Chandra Bahadur said that all those years he volunteered even with the less wage rate because he wanted to contribute in preserving the tradition and culture of the country. This year, he is performing the mask dance with all his heart without any worry.

“While I enjoy, I can also make some money,” he said. “I take home Nu 18,000 this year.”

This year onwards, he need not worry about the income. He will get more than double of what he used to earn until last year. The government revised the wage rate for masked dancers.

The daily wage has been revised to Nu 300 a day from Nu 150. They also earn a lump sum amount of Nu 18,000 a year.

Sangay Cheten shared a similar thought. After 16 years, as a mask dancer, Sangay has been promoted to a dodampa (leader) since last year. He is involved in finding mask dancers from the villagers and teaching them how to perform.

“There is vast difference between forced dancer and voluntary dancers,” he said.

He added that should the trend of people volunteering to participate as a mask dancers rather than the dzongkhag administration forcing them, decline, the wage rate should be revised after certain intervals. “Wage rate is one important factor to attract performers, specially young people,” he said.

Increase in wage rate for the mask dancers and festival performers have had a big impact this year. Dzongkhags such as Tsirang did not face shortage of dancers unlike last year when the cultural officers had to almost compel people to perform.

This year, Tsirang got 10 new dancers making the total dancers to 33. There are also 18 female dancers; two of them are out of school youth.

“We did not have to go to individual gewog to request people to perform, instead they came forward on their own,” Cultural officer Sangay Wangchuk said. “We’re expecting more in the coming years.”

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang