Punakha Tshechu was initiated in 2005 by the 70th Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra and the then Home Minister, His Excellency Lyonpo Jigme Yoedzer Thinley. The Tshechu was introduced in response to the requests made by Punakha District Administration and local people to host a festival in order to better preserve Buddhist teachings and keep alive the noble deeds of Zhabdrung Rimpoche.
Punakha Tshechu (festival) generally include dances and this festival is dedicated to Yeshe Gompo (Mahakala) or Palden Lhamo, the two main protective deities of Drukpas (Drukpas = means people of Druk land or Bhutanese). The religious dances performed during festival are called ‘Cham’ and there are a large number of them. Dancers wear spectacular costumes made of yellow silk or rich brocade, often decorated with ornaments of carved bone. For certain dances, they wear masks which may represent animals, fearsome deities, skulls or just simple human beings. These dances can be grouped in three categories; (I) Instructive or Didactic Dances, (II) Dances that purify and protect a place from demonic spirits, (III) Dances that proclaim the victory of Buddhism.
The Thongdroel unveiled during Punakha festival is of enormous significance. Measuring 83 ft by 93 ft, Punakha Thogdroel (thongdroel = huge painted scroll) is the largest ever made. Composed entirely of applique on more than 6,000 metres of silk brocade, it took 51 artists, two years to complete. Depicting 20 of the greatest gurus and sages around the central figure of Zhabdrung, the top half of the Thongdroel is devoted to the eleven manifestations of Zhabdrung’s lineage. The bottom half depicts Bhutan’s spiritual leaders including the current Je Khenpo (chief abbot).