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FESTIVAL ETIQUETTE

At various times throughout the year, annual festivals known as "tsechus" take place around the country, but there are other festivals too. Tsechus are festivals extolling the great deeds of the Buddhist Saint, Padmasambhava, popularly known as "Guru Rinpoche" in our mountain kingdom. All of Guru Rinpoche's great deeds are believed to have taken place on the 10th day of the month, which is the meaning of the word tsechu, and all tsechus do in fact take place/begin on 10th days. All the districts, dzongs and a large number of villages in the east, hold annual tsechus, which attract people from far and wide.

Tsechus are celebrated for several days (usually between three and five, depending on where taking place) and are the occasion for dances that are clearly defined in religious content. They can be performed by monks, laymen or gomchens and the repertory is more or less the same everywhere.

Certain tsechus end with the veneration of a huge applique thangkha, called a "thongdroel". The thongdroel is unveiled at dawn to bring enlightenment to all who view it. Festival goers believe that by simply viewing this thongdroel, they can be delivered from the cycle of birth and rebirth, which is the ultimate aim of Buddhism.

Some tsechus also have a "wang", a collective verbal blessing given by a high lama. Colored threads are distributed, and people tie them around their necks as witness to the blessing. Sometimes the wang is called "mewang" meaning "blessing by fire" which burns away their impurities.

Atsaras are clowns whose expressive masks and postures are an indispensable element in any religious festival. They confront the monks, toss out salacious jokes, and distract the crowd with their antics when the religious dances begin to grow tedious. Believed to represent Acharyas, religious masters of India, they are the only people permitted to mock religion in a society where sacred matters are treated with the highest respect. For a few days these popular entertainers are allowed the freedom to express a formulaic challenge within an established framework that does not, however, upset the social and religious order.

Some religious festivals include only a few dances and consist mostly of readings from a particular text. On these occasions, villagers assemble in a temple and participate in the prayers while at the same time drinking strong alcoholic beverages. Each village takes pride in its annual religious festival, and any villagers who have gone to live in the city are expected to come back home for it. Such villagers will themselves sponsor a large part of the cost of mounting the festival.



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