The whirling silks of this Tshechu dancer’s costume blossom into an impressive shape as he loses himself in the rhythm of the traditional Cham (or Tscham) dance as part of the Lhuntse Tshechu, an annual festival held in northeastern Bhutan. These masked dancers perform to a musical accompaniment provided by brother monks or other locals.
The dance has been described as a form of meditation and it’s easy to see why. The dancers commit themselves so fully to the rite that the movements and noise take on a mantra-like quality. Through repetition and ritual, the monks approach a trance state.
Many of the scenes portrayed as part of the dance depict events from the life of Guru Rinpoche (also known as Padmasambhava, or Padum) and offer its practitioners the opportunity to feel a sense of unity with the most holy guru. Other dances depict specific events from the other points in the history of Tibetan buddhism.
The Tshechu, held at different times in different parts of the country, is an annual event in Bhutan and neighbouring countries, although some aspects of the celebration are banned in Tibet itself. The festivals take place over a four-day period, allowing local people to come together in celebration and religious worship. Due to the diffuse nature of Bhutan’s population, the festivals provide an important opportunity for socialising, bonding and trading to take place.