Bhutanese culture comes alive, in all its grace and color, during the annual festival of mask dances called Tshechu. Tshechus are the dramatized re-enactments of the acts of Guru Padmasambhava who was responsible for spreading Buddhism in Bhutan. Besides, several other dances composed by great Buddhist masters in the past are also performed.
The mighty Himalayas in the north and the dense jungles of the south served as natural barriers against outside influence. This has allowed Bhutan to evolve its own unique culture and tradition. Bhutanese culture draws its essence from Buddhism. Bhutanese people have adopted most aspects of Buddhism as a way of life and thinking. Therefore Buddhism is hugely reflected in its culture.
Atsaras, or enlightened clowns mingle with the crowd carrying their red wooden phalluses. While assisting mask dancers, the Atsaras also entertain the crowd with their jokes and phalluses. The Atsaras were inspired by Lama Drukpa Kuenley, a 14th century Buddhist saint who used crazy wisdom to spread Buddhism. His method was considered weird and crazy often including sex. Today, people from across the world visit his monastery to seek blessings on fertility.
Tshechus are considered times to wear the best dress, eat the best food and spend the time with families, neighbors and friends. Men wear the traditional dress called gho, which is aknee length dress resembling the Scottish kilt.
Women wear kira, an ankle length dress wrapped around on the waist by a belt. Tego, or a think jacket is worn on top. Women also adorn themselves with costly jewelry. Both gho and kira come in various colors and patterns.
Women wearing these colorful dresses also perform traditional Bhutanese songs and dances during the Tshechu.
At other times, men and women play sports, sing and dance together. Archery is Bhutan’s national game. Different villages play in groups to shoot arrows on the target. Every hit is celebrated by songs and dances and the shooter is decorated with a scarf.
Traditional Bhutanese art can be seen in Dzongs, temples, monasteries and traditional Bhutanese houses. The arts and songs draw many parallels from Buddhism and nature. Bhutanese songs follow the highs and lows of the snow capped mountain ranges.
In Bhutanese homes and societies, Driglam Namzha, a traditional Bhutanese set of etiquette is observed and followed. Respect to elders, compassion and moderation are all part of Driglam Namzha.
A popular wall painting, most commonly seen in Bhutan is that of the Four Harmonious Friends, a Monkey, Rabbit, Elephant and a Bird who use their own set of skills to grow and nurture a tree until it bears fruit for all of them to feed.
This sense of community and friendship inspires the mindset of the Bhutanese people even today.