By Tshering D. Sherpa
Have you ever heard of festival Tsechu? Probably not!
Tshechu literally means “Day 10” in the Tibetan language. If you are familiar with Bhutanese culture than you must have known about it or at least heard of the festival. Tsechu celebrated in Briddim, a small village in Rasuwa of Nepal is the rarest festivals celebrated by Buddhist resident of the village.
What makes it so special is because it’s rare, it’s not celebrated by every Buddhist of the world and it’s also not famous like any other festivals in Nepal. Unlike Tsechu festival, celebrated in Bhutan and carrying the similar name in similar religion, the reason behind celebration is quite different.
Cultural variation really is a wonder. In Bhutan, Tsechu is an annual religious Bhutanese festival held in each district of Bhutan on the tenth day of a month of the lunar Tibetan calendar. The month depends on the place.
Tsechu is religious festival of the Drukpa Lineage of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. During the 8th century and 9th century, great Scholar known as Padmasambhava visited Tibet and Bhutan. He used to convert opponents of Buddhism by performing rites, reciting mantras and finally performing a dance of subjugation to conquer local spirits and gods. He visited Bhutan to aid the dying king Sindhu Raja. Padmasambhava performed a series of such dances in the Bumthang Valley to restore the health of the king. The grateful king helped spread Buddhism in Bhutan.
Padmasambhava organized the first Tsechu in Bumthang, where the eight manifestations of Padmasambhava were presented through eight forms of dances. These became the Cham dances depicting the glory of Padmasambhava.
What’s the difference?
The celebration of Tsechu in Briddim can be traced back to Great Lama named Kunsang Choenphel who was known as “Stone Crusher” as he seemed to possess strong power and villager claim that he can pick up any stone and crush it with his bare hands. There are no exact known reasons behind him coming to Briddim from Tibet but his traces can be found on stone.
Legend of Kunsang Choenpel
One day Kunsang Choenpel saw a bull running into a field to destroy it. But the bull instead was the devil who came in form of a bull to trouble the lama. While chasing the bull, he kept picking up the stone and put it on his pocket to hit the bull but when he reached the bull, it was nowhere to be seen. It had just vanished into a thin air. He took out all the stones from the pockets as it was useless and when he was about to throw it, he saw his the print of his own fingers in the stones. Even though the villagers still had found the stone with his fingerprint but no one knows what happen to stone and his descended are one of the residents of the village.
Just like the Bhutanese, Briddim people also celebrate Tsechu annually based on Tibetan Lunar Calendar and they celebrate the festival for the five days as a celebration for the birthday of Great Lama Kunsang Choenpel.
Day 1: Initiative day
It is called Thorshang. On the day, all the Lama in the village make different kind of Thorma which include ingredients like Ghee, Tsamba, (village tradition flour or Tibetan flour) water, color ghee and all the thorma have different names like big ones are called Khengur which are three in numbers and Fhorgi and Morgi basically known as boy and girl and pazam khengur, shjelso, dhengya ghenze lhudup, fubzen, molab, jhibta, thensu and so on.
Day 2: Driving away the evil
On the second day everyone gathers around the little temple made in the middle of the ground of monasteries where they put pictures of Gautam Buddha, Manjushree, Jhamphe yang, Chana Dorjee and other deities. It is the day of inviting the Great Lama Kunsang Cheonphel, who is also referred to as Kunsang Yabyong, to the temple. The Lama is invited by offering Tso in the temple and the offerings are presented by both the male and female head of the house. Tso basically includes traditional bread, prawn, sweets, chocolate, biscuits, and other offerings.
During the night, men of the village dress up traditionally and dance.
Along with the lama, they make Thorma and dance for several hours and recite some mantra afterward as they believe, by doing that, they are driving away all the evils and bad energy from the village and illness from the person.
They also make different kinds of Thorma as a representation of devils and after the dance session, they go somewhere far to throw it away. While returning, Mani aba or the head of the household goes to receive them in the middle of the way, chanting a victory song about winning over the evils.
After that Mani Aba and Aama, perform a dance known as Mani dance and pass the night singing and dancing. The Mani dance includes four dance forms, Karcha, yangja, Nupdewa and Thengul Mani.
Day 3: Mask Dance
A mask dance is performed on the third day of the festival. Young men from the village, dressing with traditional attires and as a jungle man known as kherakpa, perform the cham dance. Elderly people from the village dances afterward followed by Toohmo, performed by young boys and girls, Khandoma (female Goddess or fairy) dance, Shawa (deer) dance and Kerakpa dance in the last. Only the males from the village perform the mask dance where female enjoy the dance from the audience.
Day 4: Distribution day
The fourth day is a distribution day, where lama distributes Tseril and the chang to the people of the village. During the night men and women of the village dance in turn until midnight which is also known as fhojam and mojam. After midnight, dance is performed only by men dance wearing different kinds of hat followed by group dance of men and women until the early hours.
Day 5: Closing Ceremony
The fifth day or the closing day is celebrated by performing another dance known as Nyorub and lighting the big butter lamp for the good fortune of the village.
Whole village household is divided into different groups when it comes to organizing the annual festival Tsechu and the whole village contributed to it. Organizer collects rice, chang from each and every household and during Tsechu, everyone eats the gompa together.
In the neighboring village of Sedang, Tseba Nyishu or the death anniversary of Great lama Kunchok Choenpel, is celebrated which include same rituals. The only difference is they celebrate it on a different day for a different reason.
Origin of the song
Another amazing thing is the song they sing. It is passed down from generations and it’s not similar to the language villager used and no one can interpret the song perfectly. It is believed that the song was actually sung by Khandoma and fairies and passed it down to their ancestor.