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Popular religious festival or Tshechu in Bhutan - Jambay Lhakhang Tshechu

Jambay Lhakhang Drup - Popular Festivals in Bhutan

Jambay Lhakhang, is one of the oldest temples in the Kingdom, founded by Songtsen Gampo, a Tibetan King in the 7th century AD.  The King was destined to build 108 temples known as Thadhul- Yangdhul (temples on and across the border) in a day to subdue the demoness that was residing in the Himalayas. This temple is one of the two temples build in Bhutan. A second is located in Paro, the Kichu lhakhang also built on the same day.


Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche visited the site several times and deemed it exceptionally sacred. Chakhar Gyab, the king of the Iron Castle of Bumthang renovated the temple in the 8th century A.D.

The first King of Bhutan,  Sir Ugyen Wangchuck constructed the Dus Kyi Khorlo (Kala Chakra- Wheel of Time) inside the temple, to commemorate his victory over his rivals Phuntsho Dorji of Punakha and Alu Dorji of Thimphu after the battle of Changlimithang in 1885. Later, Ashi Wangmo, the younger sister of the second King of Bhutan, built the Chorten lhakhang.

The main relics include the future Buddha, Jowo Jampa (Maitreya) from whose name the present name of the temple is derived. The Lhakhang (temple) also houses more than one hundred statues of the gods of Kalachakra built by the first King, in 1887.

One of the most spectacular festivals in the country, called Jambay Lhakhang Drup is hosted here with a dual purpose and agenda. Firstly, it is a tribute to the honour of Guru Rinpoche, a saint who introduced Tantric form of Buddhism in the country and secondly, this festival commemorates the establishment of Jambay Lhakhang (temple) in the 8th century. During the festival, variety of traditional and mask dances are performed and each dance bear significance meaning.  However, the highlight of Jambay Lhakhang Drup remains the fire ceremony named 'Mewang' and the religious dance known as 'Tercham'. Apart from these, the other activities include- a famous drum beat dance, a clown dance called Dola Pangtoy Shazam, Raksha Mangcham (a dance symbolizing life after death) and many more. With the proceedings of the events, this festival captures the attention of the onlookers and create a magnificent spectacle.

The date of festival is fixed on the 15th day of the 9th Bhutanese lunar month and generally this fall between late October and early November.

Jambay Lhakhang festival schedule is as under:


Program beings around 7 p.m. with the ‘Jinsi’ the burning of sacred fire.

Black Hat Dance (Shana) and of the Gings (emanations of Guru Rinpoche): Dancers wear long brocade robes and ornate black hats to perform this dance. The dancers who represent the Ging wear shorter robes with masks. This dance is performed to purify the ground and to chase away evil influences.

Dance of Offering (Tshogcham): A dancer offers the body of evil spirits to the deities. After the offering is made the audience goes outside the temple where an arch of pine bushes laid erected.

Fire Dance (Mewang): The arch of pine is set on fire. The fire is said to purify the earth from evil spirits. People who pass through the arch have their sins cleansed. If one receives the blessing of the Mewang, all the obstacles that hinder one’s wellbeing believed to be cleared.



The festival program beings by 9:30 a.m. with a ‘Chipdrel’ traditional reception.  

The Atsara (clowns) welcome the audience and marching ceremony follows. Literally marchang refers to chang or alcohol with mar or butter. In Bhutanese culture, the marching offering is made to launch an auspicious event, mark an important occasion or receive an honoured guest.

Then Mask dance begins covering:
Dance of Shinji Yab Yum (Lord of death and his consort): The Lord of Death and his consort perform this dance to protect the four realms over which he has power.

Dance of Nyulema and Peling Ging Sum (Three kinds of Ging): The Nyulema is an evil spirit represented by a boy in a skeleton mask. The Ging with the sticks catch the Nyulema. The Durdag or the Lords of the Cremation Ground (represented with dancers wearing white skeletal masks) bring forward a box, which represents evil spirits. The Ging with swords liberate the mind of the evil spirit by killing its body of flesh. The Ging with drums dance to celebrate the victory of religion over the evil spirit.

Dance of the Jachung Bochung (Two mythical birds): Dancers wearing masks representing the auspicious birds perform the dance. The play of the Atsara Gapo Pawo Solgyo (Atsara who acts like a Pawo). Though most of the stories and plays were originally with Buddhist sub text they now serve as comedy relief for the crowd. This story is about an Atsara (clown with a red mask) who is mad. The Atsara injures his son, as he did not recognize him. He tries to save his son’s life by impersonating a pawo or medium and tries to perform a religious curative ceremony. Being unsuccessful he has to finally call a doctor and a monk to cure his son.

Dance of the Heroes (Pacham): The Dance of the Heroes or Pacham portrays the act of leading believers of the human world into presence of Guru Rinpoche. Legends has it that ‘Treasure-Revealer’ Terton Pema Lingpa had a vision of Guru Padsambhava and his palace where this dance was being performed by celestial beings.

Third day is called barton, or ‘middle’. The salient feature of the third day is display of prayers, seeking to secure luck through the blessings of warrior-God. This prayer of invocation is usually performed early in the morning inside the temple. Later part of the day following sacred dances are performed:

Atsara (clown) dance Dola Pangtoy:  At any major religious festival in Bhutan, one can find Atsaras or clowns who entertain spectator through exaggerated dance movements or ribald singing. Occasionally, group of Atsaras portray accomplished tantric masters and use their humorous roles in order to bring happiness and peace to all spectators. In Jambay Lhakhang Drup festival, the chief clown is locally known as Gep Ap Atsara who manages entire festival from beginning to end.

Stag Dance (Shazam Cham): The stag dance is performed through Bhutan to tame earth spirits. Earth spirits are differentiated from the earth goddess, and thus require different supplication actions in order to appease them.

Black Hat Dance with Dagger: The Black Hat dance is an enactment of one of the most esoteric and powerful practices of Vajrayāna Buddhism. Based on Mahāyāna Buddhism and its theory of altruism to take all sentient beings to liberation, but equipped with exceptional expedient methods, tantric Buddhism advocates using violent and terrifying methods out of ruthless compassion in order to tame unruly beings.

Dance of the Lords of Cremation Ground: This dance reminds viewers of the impermanence of life with the dancers portrayed as enlightened beings who help liberate departed consciousness.

The Dance of the Ging and the Tsholing: Guru Rinpoche himself is said to have performed this dance for the first time in Samye monastery in Tibet, during 8th century.  
The Tsholing, terrifying deities who are seen as protectors of the religion, purify the ground of evil influences. The Ging, who make up Guru Rinpoche’s retinue, then chase away the Tsholing in order to take possession of the area and proclaim victory for the religion by beating drums. With their drumstick, they hit people on the head to drive out impurities, and the public whistles to keep demons far away.

Dance of the Drummers of Dramitse (Dramitse Ngacham): It is a sacred cultural and religious mask dance which has its origian in Dramitse, Mongar, in Eastern Bhutan. The dance features 16 masked male dancers wearing colourful costumes and ten other men comprising the orchestra. The dance is accompanied by traditional instruments consisting of cymbals, trumpets and drums.


Dance of the Noblemen and Charming Ladies (Pholay and Molay Cham): Primarily a dance to entertain, this performance is based on Indian myth, meant to portray the love and jealousy that exits between couples irrespective of their social status. The dance also depicts that love can bring happiness to all human beings but eventually it will give rise to jealousy among couples, friends and neighbours. Once the mind is tainted with jealousy, one is unable to see good in others and it makes one blind, further deluding the senses.

The Naked Dance (Tercham): One of the unique parts of this festival, the dance is performed just before midnight by a group of sixteen naked men with their faces covered in white cloths and masks. It is believed that the dance was introduced by the great treasure discoverer, Terton Dorji Lingpa on the prophecy of Guru Rinpoche in 8th century and the dance originated from Nabji Korphu in Trongsa. The demons used to delay the construction of a monastery by destroying it every night and Terton Dorji Lingpa launched this sacred dance to distract the demons. In due course of time, the monastery was completed and consecrated. Terton Dorji Lingpa brought ths dance to Jambay Lhakhang during its consecration.


On the last day of the festival, under mentioned dances are performed and the festival concludes with the treasure relics of Dorje Lingpa bestowing blessing (ten wang) on those assembled. These termas are displayed only once a year and are imbued with efficacious ritual power, conferred by dorje Lingpa when he discovered them in 14th century.

The Dance of the Garuda (Chung Tsam Cham): The four dancers wear masks showing the mythological garuda holding swords in their right hand that symblozies - like all the weapons – the destruction of attachment to an inherent self, and the wisdom that recognizes emptiness. This dance refers to an event that happened in the 8th century, whereby an earth-dwelling spirit and his evil-intentioned retinue had spread fearful illness and misery among sentient beings. In order to free the six categories of living beings, from their unfortunate plight, Guru Rinpoche manifested himself in the form of the mythological garuda bird, overcame the harmful beings, and re-established peace.

Dorling Nga Cham (The Dance with Drums) & Dorling Dri Cham (The Dance with the Swords): The Dorling Nga Cham, the Dance with Drums is considered to be holiest dance of Jambay Lhakhang Drup since it is combined with blessing (ten wang) in front of the holy statue of Dorje Lingpa.

For the Dorling Dri Cham, eight barefooted dancers appeared in silken darna mentsi skirts, brocade jackets, criss-crossed sashes and headscarves with small black braids hanging from them dance without mask. In their right hand, the dancers hold a sword with yellow silk cloth bound to it.

Dance of the Rakshas (Raksha Gocham) and the Judgement of the Dead (Raksha Mangcham)
This is based on the Bardo Thoedrol (Book of the Dead), a text hidden by Guru Rinpoche and rediscovered Karma Lingpa in the 14th century. This is one of the most important dances of the festival and is watched carefully by many old people in preparation for their own death..

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