Tradition: The answer is simple you may think. It is in many ways. But tshechu is much more than how it is understood today.
History has it that Guru Rinpoche, the great scholar, visited Tibet and Bhutan in the 8th century and 9th century. He visited Bhutan to help the dying king Sindhu Raja in Bumthang. Guru performed a series of such dances to restore the health of the king. The grateful king helped spread Buddhism in Bhutan. Guru organised the first tshechu in Bumthang, where the eight manifestations of Guru were presented through eight forms of dances.
But tshechu is more than celebration of Guru Rinpoche’s extraordinary life and contributions. It is a moment to give thanks; it is a time for people to supplicate for good days ahead. However, with time, tshechu has come to mean something totally different.
Tshechu was initiated long time ago as the most profound public teaching – how we live our lives, how we need to conduct ourselves as an individual member of society, and how we could work together for the benefit of all. It was meant to be a time of celebration for people who had to work for days on end in the fields, a moment for members of family to come together and celebrate their success.
All these have taken a different turn today. Tshechu these days is a holiday and time to have some fun, nothing more than that.
“Tshechu is fun. We get to see a lot of different things and time to hangout during nights,” says 17-year-old Kuenga Tenzin. “Chams are a bore, really. There should be more modern dance and songs.”
But 76-year-old Aap Thinley Penjore disagrees. Tshechu is not a plain celebration, he says. It has a deep significance. “Tshechus are kurims for the nation and the people. What is important is that one should have a complete devotion. Prayers need to be earnest. Only then will good things happen to the people and the country.”
But to the young people, the twirling and twisting of the masked dancers mean nothing. There is nothing to be gained from it, materially, emotionally and spiritually.
Raksha Mangcham, the dance of the Rakshas and Judgement of the Dead, which is based on the Book of Dead – Guru Rinpoche’s scared teaching – is, at the best, a funny act to most young people today.
“I don’t understand why these dancers are going about wasting so much time. And look at the rain. What’s the purpose of it,” says Sonam Choden, a 19-year-old student. “I have heard that the dances have special meaning. I don’t get it.”
Shingje Choegi Gyalp, the Lord of the Dead, has been basking for a long while, in the rain not for no reason. The judgement time will soon begin. Black and white deeds will be counted and the fate of a person will be decided.
“Not many people understand the significance of tshechu today,” says Aap Kinley Sithub of Kabesa, Thimphu. “Tshechus were initiated to thank gods for peace and prosperity and to invoke the power of the higher beings to grant us continued prosperity and happiness.”
Today, tshechu has come to mean a time to flaunt one’s wealth. How best one is dressed and how richly one eats is Tshechu. For young people, it is a time to find a mate and have a good time, however fleeting the moment.
Says Lopen Pema Thinley, a retired teacher: “It is good that we now have commentators at tshechus. Otherwise, our young people will not understand anything about tshechu. It is crucial that we understand why we are doing this. It is more than just culture, tradition and belief system. It is a life lesson.”
Shingje Choegi Gyalp is looking on, almost motionless. Acts unfold and the rain continues. Thimphu Tshechu is coming to an end. Outside, on the streets, traders and merchants are busy selling garments and things varied.
Has tshechu also come to mean business?