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Bhutan > Pictures and travelogues > Festivals in Bhutan

Pictures from festivals in Bhutan: Mask dances (Cham dances) at the Black-necked Crane Festival and Bhutan archery.

Mask dance at the Black-necked Crane Festival in Bhutan
Mask dance (Cham dance) at the Black-necked Crane Festival in Bhutan: the Dance of the four Stags.

The Black-necked Crane Festival is celebrated annually around 12 November in the courtyard of Gangtey Gonpa, in Phobjikha valley (Central Bhutan) to welcome the cranes, which start arriving in late October. The festival was first initiated in 1998. The initiative aims to promote local economic welfare through nature based tourism programs. The Black-necked Crane Festival is attended by local people and foreign tourists. 

Gangtey Monastery is set above a broad valley in Central Bhutan and overlooks the Phobjika Nature Reserve, which hosts hundreds of wintering Black-necked Cranes.

Bhutan is known for its mask dances, also known as Cham dances, which are an integral part of the country's remarkable cultural and religious traditions. Cham dances are lively masked and costumed dances. They are performed annuallybyBuddhist monks (Gyalong-cham) or laymen (Boe-chham) at Tsechu festivals. In both cases, the performance of mask dances is a deeply spiritual affair. Cham dances usually last for 3 to 5 days.

Tsechus are religious festivals of Drukpa Buddhism which are held mostly in October in all important Dzongs and monasteries. Thimphu tsechu and Paro tsechu are among the most important religious festivals in Bhutan.

Bhutan mask dance: Dance of the Heroes (Pa Cham)
Pa Cham Dance at the Black-necked Crane Festival in Bhutan.

There are many Cham Dances, including the Dance of the four Stags (Sha Zam Cham), the Dance of the Heroes (Pa Cham), the Black Hat Dance (Zhana Cham), the Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds (Durdag), the Dance of the drums from Dramitse (Dramitse Ngacham), and many more. In spite of regional variations, the performance of cham remains basically the same.

Dance of the four Stags (Sha Zam): In the 8th century there was a Wind God who created much of trouble and unhappiness to the people. Guru Rinpoche subdued this wind god, thereby restoring peace and happiness. The Sha Zam portrays the subjugation of the Wind God by Guru Rinpoche. 

Dance of the Heroes (Pa Cham): Pa cham dance dates back to the 15th century. It commemorates the victory of Buddhism over sin and transports believers directly to the presence of Guru Rinpoche.

Black Hat Dance (Zhana Cham) celebrates the assassination of the Tibetan King Langdarma in 842 A.D. by a Buddhist monk wearing a black robe. The purpose of the ritual is to eliminate the obstacles, which in the individual are the afflictive emotions and misconceptions that cause sufferings.

Dance of the drums from Dramitse (Dramitse Nga Cham): Dramitse Nga Cham is one of the most colorful and sacred dances performed throughout Bhutan. It features sixteen masked male dancers wearing a variety of animal masks including an owl, a garuda, a bear, a leopard and the twelve animals of the Bhutanese horoscope. The original dance would take some three hours to perform so that many shorter versions of the Dramitse Drum dance have been recorded.

Bhutan archery
Bhutan archery.

Archery is the national sport of Bhutan. In 1971, when Bhutan became a member of the United Nations Organizations., Blue Poppy was declared the national flower, raven the national bird, takin the national animal, cypress the national tree, gho and kira the national dress and Gyalpoi Tenzhu, the national song.

The Bhutan Archery Federation promotes both forms of archery: the traditional archery played in national tournaments and the Olympic style of modern archery in which Bhutan has been participating.

Archery is played in Bhutan throughout the year on different occasions, including during religious and secular public holidays and local tsechus. Nearly every village in Bhutan has a field for archery. Changlimithang Stadium in Thimphu is one of the most prominent archery fields of the country.

Archery in Bhutan is more than a sport. It is a living example and a dynamic manifestation of the unique traditions and culture of the Bhutanese people. No festival in Bhutan is complete without a game of archery.



Marie-France Grenouillet in Bhutan
find here more pictures from bhutan: its population, its festivals, its monuments, its landscapes and particularly its fauna (including golden langurs).

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Bhutan > Pictures and travelogues > Wildlife in Bhutan

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Pictures from festivals in Bhutan: Mask dances (Cham dances) at the Black-necked Crane Festival and Bhutan archery. Travel directory and travel guide to Bhutan.