Rare Masked Dances - One Of The Unique Features Of The Kholong Tshechu (Brawl Festival) In Bhutan

“Other dances like the Pha-dong chham, Sangling Ngachham, and Terchham among others are not performed in any part of the country,” said Ugyen Dorji.

A masked dance performed in a tshechu in Bhutan. (Source: DrukAsia)

 

By Younten Tshedup | Kuensel

One of the oldest tshechus (festivals) in the east, the Kholong tshechu which is held at Yonphu in Kanlgung, Trashigang, is popular not just because it is an old festival but because of its name Kholong, which translates into ‘brawl’ in Sharchopkha.

Originally known as Yonphu tshechu, which had its origin from the name of the place, Yonphuel Ugyen Chholing, the festival is popularly known as Kholong tshechu today.

“The name’s so popular that many think it is the actual name,” said former Kanglung gup, Ugyen Dorji, who claimed that the name bears no relation to the tshechu in any sense.

Source: DrukAsia

One of the village elders, Ngawang Samdrup, said that when he was a teenager, he heard the name for the first time.

How the name “Kholong tshechu” came about

The 63-year-old said that the name was coined after a brawl that involved army personnel from Yonphula and locals during the tshechu.

“Because they were drunk, they had an argument and a brawl broke out during gambling,” said Ngawang Samdrup. He said he was 15 years old back then.

“It might have been a coincidence and similar fights are common everywhere.”   

Although no one knows for sure as to when the first tshechu commenced, Ugyen Dorji said that the Yonphuel Ugyen Chholing lhakhang is 407 years old this year.

Source: DrukAsia

“Both the lhakhang and the tshechu holds a significant place in the lives of the residents and addressing it as Kholong tshechu was derogatory.”

The former gup said that the gewog and local residents have been trying to correct people who believe that the tshechu mandates a brawl every time it is held.

A local resident, Khandu said that he had witnessed few arguments between couples and college students after getting drunk in the past tshechus.

“However, it would be wrong to relate those incidents to the tshechu. It is a common thing everywhere else,” he said.

“The only fight that happens during this tshechu is between good and evil.” 

Unique features of the Kholong tshechu

Apart from the name, the tshechu is also considered unique for its rare mask dances. One of the dances, Homchham where two dancers wear the masks of the lord of the cremation ground (durdag) was originally performed naked.    

Source: DrukAsia

“Other dances like the Pha-dong chham, Sangling Ngachham, and Terchham among others are not performed in any part of the country,” said Ugyen Dorji. 

Terton Pema Lingpa’s son, Sangdag who was offered the place where he later built the Yonphuel Ugyen Chholing lhakhang had initiated the dances.

Organised by the gewog administration and residents, the tshechu is performed thrice a year – one in June to mark the birth anniversary of Guru Rinpoche and another two in September and November.

 

This article first appeared in Kuensel and has been edited for the Bhutan Times.

 


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