October 20, 2011


Filed under: general — cohn17 @ 11:09 pm
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some background before we begin: bhutan is divided into 20 administrative districts, called dzongkhags. the administrative center of the dzongkhag is the fortress-like dzong, which contains both government offices and a monastery/temple. to the right is a photo of the dzong in punakha, which is one of the sites where the king celebrated his wedding over this past october 13-15.

in october, monasteries and dzongs across bhutan celebrate tshechu, or “tenth day festival”, to commemorate the birth of guru rinpoche (see previous post). tshechu consists of various dances that retell bhutanese and buddhist myths. the dancers wear costumes to represent guru rinpoche, or various masks to represent death and spirits from the afterlife. it is said that when someone dies, he spends 49 days in limbo during which he meets the animal spirits who will help guide him toward his next life, into which he is born in either a better or worse condition. the bhutanese wear the masks in the dance “so that people will recognize the spirits when they die,” as our guide explained it.

at times, the dancing was fairly athletic –

– and the costumes were magnificent, but tshechu music can be repetitive. the musicians played horns and drums and stringed instruments, and some of it was lovely. however, each dance included a section in which a percussionist began banging cymbals that sound like pot lids, or someone else played a series of blasts on what sounded like a foghorn –

waaaa … waaaa … waaaa …
waaaaaaaaaaaa …

waaaa …

waaaa …

waaaa …
waaaaaaaaaaaa …

– again and again for about 10 minutes at a time, during which the dancers simply twirled and dipped in slow motion. this was when all of us started photographing people in the audience:

finally, i have to mention the clowns. there were six guys in grotesque masks running around with wooden penises in their hands, putting them into the faces of the singers who came in between numbers. the clowns actually were dance coaches: when they saw a singer making the wrong moves in the choreography, one of them would come in and show him or her the correct moves. when they weren’t doing that, however, they were putting wooden penises into the singers’ faces. indian temples are full of lingams – the stylized genitalia of the god shiva – but the bhutanese are much more graphic with their fertility symbols. in fact, it’s not unusual to see a penis in full eruption painted on someone’s house.

next: gross national happiness is a warm gun

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