Witnessing the Guru Thongdrol on the last day of Paro Tshechu was never on the cards during my 12-day Bhutan trip, but it started to make sense after I read Guru Rinpoche’s faith-infusing words - “I am present in front of anyone who has faith in me, just as the moon casts its reflection, effortlessly, in any vessel filled with water.”
What is Tshechu?
Masked dancers in their dazzling silks and brocades with designs unchanged since the 16th century; liberating backdrop of a Thongdrel (or Thongdrol), which are hand-appliqued scrolls, believed to lead viewers to nirvana; an atmosphere of divinity and jubilation knitted with cultures and beliefs; an entire town, or even a district and sometimes people from all over the country (and the world because of the presence of tourists) coming together; all this and more makes Tshechu – the annual Bhutanese religious festival – a spectacle. It pleases all your senses, and not just the sight. And whether or not you get to know, it purifies your soul.
Simply put, Tshechus are the most vibrant and colourful festivals of Bhutan. Every district celebrates it during different times, based on their beliefs and calendar of events. The main attraction of every Tshechu is the Cham dances. These costumed, masked dances are moral vignettes, or based on incidents from the life of the 9th century Nyingma teacher Padmasambhava and other saints. Most Tshechus also feature the unfurling of a Thongdrel, typically depicting a seated Padmasambhava surrounded by holy beings, the mere viewing of which is said to cleanse the viewer of sin.
How it all began
I visited the ‘Tiger’s Nest’ on my last day in Bhutan, and wished to have spent more time at the spot where Guru Rinpoche meditated, but had to leave to make room for other visitors. On the other hand, the ‘Guru’ had some other plans, which he hinted by serving me holy water in my dream that night. I woke up at 2AM and wondered what it meant; and believed that the sight of magnificently lit-up Paro Dzong, through my room's window, has the answer to it. We had to leave the country at 7AM, back for India, but I didn't want to return before finding out the reason behind my dreams. They had led me to beautfiul places in the past, and I believed, it's another sign. So, I left for the Paro Dzong immediately to find my answer.
After a long walk I entered the Dzong at around 3AM.
The chants of ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’, the sin-purifying sight of the world’s biggest Thongdrol, soul-awakening sounds of the drums, lit-up butter lamps and mystical performances of the masked-monks welcomed me.
Shortly, several other monks joined the ritual and started the holy prayer. That moment transported me to another world.
The world I was transported to possessed the fragrance of eternity, soul-purifying vibrations of the chants, voice of the Budhha - which was symbolised by the sound of drums, stories of the 8th century recited by dancing spirits and Guru Rinpoche blessing everyone. Including me. He looked at me and smiled. He offered me the holy water, exactly the way he served it to me in my dreams. As I drank it, the whole place got illuminated with blinding white light.
As the light faded, miraculously, the sun had risen, the ceremony was over and the monks were leaving. It was like I was transported back to to this world by the transition of that light. I couldn’t acclimatise between the two worlds. So I checked my camera and surprisingly, it had a few pictures of the ceremony, which were different than what I had witnessed a few moments ago. I didn’t really understand what happened, but guess I found the answer to my dream. I smiled and thanked the ‘Guru’ for fulfilling my wish of spending more time with him and giving me an experience I would cherish for the rest of my life.
If you are planning to witness the Tshechu, do not miss the reveal of the Guru Thongdrel. It happens on the last day, and is the most magnificent moment.