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Punakha Festival
(Drubchen & Tshechu)

The Seven-day event of ‘Drubchen’ and ‘Tshechu’ is held from 5th to 12th of the First Month of the Bhutanese Calendar every year.

The Dharma King, who is the re-incarnation of Avaloketeswara;
He, who is known as the protector of the Medicinal Land of Four Directions;
He, who is the supreme head of Peldhen Drukpa;
Let us hold aloft the Victory Banner of the one who subdued the enemies of Peldhen Drukpa from all the directions.

Introduction

Looking like an anchored ship, the Punthang Dechen Phodrang or Punakha Dzong stands in the middle of the Phochu (Male) and Mochu (Female) Rivers. It was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1637, a culmination of the prophecy made by Guru Rimpochhe in the 8th century.  The name Pungthang Dechen Phodrang means ‘Palace of Great Bliss.’

The Dzong carries a very rich history of Bhutan in that it was here the Zhabdrung, the founder of united Bhutan, passed away in 1651 and also it was in this Dzong that Ugyen Wangchuck, Bhutan’s first hereditary king was crowned in 1907. Then too as the first capital of Bhutan, the first session of the National Assembly was also held there in 1953.

But more than anything else, Punakha Dzong is remembered in the history of Bhutan as one having withstood two major attacks made by the Tibetans. The first came in 1639 when the Tibetans with the support of the group of five Lamas attacked the dzong. The next came in 1644 launched by the 5th Dalai Lama. In both of these battles, the Tibetans were utterly defeated and their weapons and armour captured.

The Puna Drubchen is then an annual festival introduced by Zhabdrung to commemorate the victories over the Tibetans. During the festival, the ‘pazaps’ or local militia men, dressed in battle gear showcase a battle scene of this distant past recalling the days when in the absence of a standing army, men from the eight Tshogchens or great village blocks of Thimpu came forward and managed to expel the Tibetan forces out of the country ushering in a new-found internal peace and stability.

As for the Punakha Tshechu, it was started by the 70th Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra and the then Home Minister His Excellency Lyonpo Jigme Yoedzer Thinley in 2005 on the request made by Punakha District Administration and people for upholding the Buddhist teachings and keeping alive the noble deeds of Zhabdrung Rimpochhe.

Purpose

a) Bhutan is a country with a strong Buddhist foundation. It is a sovereign independent country and one that is rich in age-old customs and traditions. It is essential that these unique identities of the country are preserved and passed on to our future generations and the Tshechus and Drubchens are the best possible means to carry them forward by way of sound and vision.

b) The Tshechus and Drubchens are also held annually to help in preserving the grand customs and traditions started by our forebears and to alternatively bring enjoyment to people.

c) The Tshechus and Drubchens are held on auspicious days. Such events create an opportunity to bring people together in common celebrations and fostering relationships.

d) A plan is ahead to make the Punakha Tshechu different from other tshechus. The plan is to make the Tshechu not only attractive for its events but as a place and time for prayer and pilgrimage for devout Buddhists.

e) It will be also made special in the eyes and hearts of tourists who visit Bhutan as an event that reflects the richness of everything that is Bhutanese.

Festival Program Description
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Date Time Program
5th Day of the First Month Morning *Arranging one’s own camp.
  Afternoon 3p.m *Reading out the Code of Conduct.
*Handing over the dresses to the Kabji Gup.
6th Day of the First Month Morning at 10a.m
*The pazaps will go for bathing in procession following the age-old tradition.
  From 3 p.m. in the afternoon. *Handing over dresses to the Gups.
7th Day of the First Month Morning at 7a.m. *The gups will present themselves to the Je Khenpo.
*Drubchen Mask Dance program
  Morning at 9.30a.m *Co-inciding with the performance of ‘Shenje Phag’ in the Monk’s Assembly Hall, the pazaps along with their respective gup and Drungpa will make their way into the Dzong carrying their Tsendhar or flag.
10a.m to 1.30p.m. in the afternoon.
*‘Zhugdrel Tendrel’ program inside the temple of eight pillars for the pazaps.
*The pazaps will return to their respective camps after the talk by the Je Khenpo
- Zhugdrel Phunsum Tshogpa
- Singing the ‘Lenma’ or ballad and performance of ‘Bhed’ or Victory Dance.
8th Day of the First Month Morning at 5 a.m. *Kabjips will fire in the air in the as a wake-up call with a victory walk over to Changyul.
Morning at 6 a.m. *Zhugdrel Tendrel & performance of ‘Bhed’ or Victory Dance.
*Taking gruel inside the camp and making offerings of wine.
*As i.Kabjips ii.Toep iii. Chang and iv.Kawangpas proceed in the above order across the Mochu Bridge to assemble near the side of the dzong, each individual makes an attempt to be the first person to offer betel nut to whoever they meet first.
*Forming two lines they will walk around the dzong singing ‘Lekso’ hauling victory, firing in the air and after similarly completed going round the Dzongchung Chorten or miniature Dzong they will proceed to Zomphakha grounds where each will carry out his duty.
*Dasho Dzongdag will serve the welcome tea.
Beginning from 2 p.m to 3 p.m. in the afternoon. *Four of the ‘Lenma’ performers will perform the dance.
*Drungpas and the Penlops will perform ‘Bhed’ or victory dance.
*Witnessing the indoor mask dance.
  From 3 p.m. in the afternoon. *Making wine offerings in the area.
*Checking whether the things are as per the list.
*Zhugdrel.
*Offering songs to Je Khenpo from the base of the flag at the entrance to the dzong.

Competition program
* Shot Put.
* Carrying sand bags.
* Sawing timber.
* Climbing tree.
9th Day of the First Month Morning at 4 a.m *‘Torbuel’ or making offerings
  Morning at 8 a.m. *The pazaps will enter the dzong and tie their Tsendhars or flags on pillars.
*After the prayer ritual is over, the preceptor to the ‘Dep’ or governor will read out the ‘Chayig Chenpo.’
*Singing ‘Lenma’
*Holding one’s own ‘Chogdha’ or arrow of victory in the hands, each individual will do an explanation or description of it.
* The four Drungpas will enter the temple of eight pillars or ‘Kagayma Lhakhang.’
*Continuing performing the ’Bhed Dance’ at the base of ‘Machen Tshelshing’ or the ‘Orange Tree of the Great Mummy’ they will proceed outside from the upper entrance of the dzong towards the place called ‘Norbu Chu Shaksa.’
*The pazaps who make exit from the lower entrance to the dzong will go to Changyul and pretend…
*After enactment of the throwing of gem into the river they will make a return in ritual procession. This will be followed by the performance of the ‘Bhed Dance’ by the four ‘Penlops.’
*The teacher of the’Lenma’ will sing the ‘Lenma’ in a long-drawn melody.
  From 3 p.m. in the afternoon. *Handing out of scarves, ‘Jinlab’ and religious strings by His Holiness the Je Khenpo.

Competition program
*Wrestling and Tug of War.
*Giving out prizes.
10th Day of the First Month Morning from 10 a.m to 4.30 p.m in the afternoon. Tshechu celebrations.

Competition program
*Dance (Zhungdra).
*Lozey competition.
11th Day of the First Month Morning from 10 a.m. to 4.30p.m in the afternoon. Tshechu celebrations.

Competition program
*Dance (Boedra).
*Tsangmo competition.
12th Day of the First Month Morning from 10 a.m. to 4.30p.m in the afternoon. Tshechu celebrations.

Competition program
*Singing and prize hand outs.