Bhutan Folk Festival 2008

Activities, Attractions

The Bhutan Folk Festival is organised to commemorate the 100 years of monarchy and to celebrate the coronation of His Majesty the 5th King. The event offers visitors a chance to experience and discover the living tradition and cultural heritage of Bhutan, the last Himalayan Buddhist kingdom. The Festival is a 3 days event in Punakha (1,350m, 4,430ft), the old capital of Bhutan.

  • Location: Vicinity of the Punakha Dzong (Fortress)
  • Dates: 13, 14 & 15 December, 2008
  • Tourist Profile:Enjoys sports and games, history, culture, outdoors

The event will be held in the vicinity of the Punakha Dzong fortress. It will showcase both the contemporary and the age-old Bhutanese traditions which are practiced in today’s everyday life. The highlight of the event would be for the Bhutanese and visitors alike to interact with the people of the 6 Gewogs (sub districts) under the Punakha Dzongkhag (District).

The Punakha Dzong (Fortress), formerly known as Pungthang Dechen Phodrang (The Palace of Great Bliss) served as the winter capital till 1955. The Punakha Dzong continues to be the winter residence of the Central Monk Body, presided by the Je Khenpo, the Chief Abbot of Bhutan. The fortress was built in 1637 by the Great Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (the Unifier of Bhutan). On 17th December, 1907, the first king of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck, was crowned here. The Machen Lhakhang, a temple inside the fortress enshrines the mummified body of the Shabdrung who died in retreat here in 1651.

Besides the festive events (such as the Bhutan Folk Festival and the annual Tsechu and Dromchhoe), Punakha has a lot more to offer its visitors. The place is blessed with many religious sites manifested with monasteries, temples and chhortens (Buddhist monuments) with significant historical values. Of the wondrous views, the most spectacular is the diversion of the Pho-Chhu (Male River) and the Mo-Chhu (Female River) and their meeting again, to form the Puna Tsang-Chhu. The fortress stands majestically on the little island formed by the two rivers. The gigantic Dzong was damaged six times by fire, once by flood and once by an earthquake.  Today, it stands with ceremony and style with a blend of the traditional colours and genuine Bhutanese architecture.

The Bhutan Folk Festival will commence with the traditional inaugural ceremony followed by conferring of Tashi Khadar (white scarf of goodwill and purity) to tourists by the High Priest with Tashi Moenlam (prayers for good luck). The event will showcase Bhutanese culture, the social mores and folklores, and the ethical way of life and organize competitions on traditional Bhutanese games such as archery, Bhutan’s traditional sport, Khuru (traditional dart), Dego (discus) and other rural games such as measurements (of rice and butter) and grinding. The winners will be awarded prizes at the end of the day. One interesting feature of the event is that, the guests can participate in the games and experience rural lifestyles. Traditional cuisine and traditions that accompany Bhutanese sporting competitions will also be showcased.  Coinciding with lunch, a traditional food festival will be organised. Prizes for best food will be awarded.

Archery, the national sport of Bhutan, has been a source of recreation from as long as the time the oldest of the forefathers could remember. With time, the style of equipment and the mode of tournament have taken the western form. The old traditional bamboo bow is now replaced by the complex compound bow, imported from the third countries.  Gradually, the traditional bow is losing its status. But the Royal Government, aware of the consequence, has given high priority to the preservation of an important aspect of Bhutanese culture by encouraging the use of bamboo bows. Sometimes, exclusive tournaments are organized where compound bows are not allowed.

Every village in Bhutan has its own archery range. High spirited competitions, usually accompanied by a banquet, are a part of all festive occasions. Teams of archers shoot at targets only 30 centimetres in diameter from a distance of 120 metres. Each team has a noisy crowd of cheerleaders who support their own side and try to interrupt the opposition. Like everything else, the other side of archery begins with God. Every time a tournament is underway, a roll of the dice is a must after the astrological charts are examined in a virtually devout ceremony. The competitions are a serious affair but the entire community congregate to celebrate these joyous occasions. All said and done, archery is not just a sport of contention, but that of revelry and enjoyment.

The tournament would revive the pleasure of playing our traditional sports which are losing out to international sports like the soccer and basketball. The uniquely admired craft of making the traditional bow and arrow will be demonstrated during the event.

Bhutanese textiles also provide and insight into an important aspect of Bhutan’s unique heritage as a part of the inimitable tradition. The history of textile production, especially the art of weaving has been unremitting since the bygone era. Towards the end of the second day, there will be a traditional attire show, enhanced by a combination of traditional ornaments and indigenous jewelry.

The third and the final day in essentially set aside for the religious proceedings where the monks, participants, guests and the locals, lead by the high priest, will carry Kanjur (religious Buddhist scripts) starting from Punakha Dzong to Nobgang across several villages & back. On the way, the villagers will receive blessings and offer Chhemar (flour and butter) & Soelja Dresi (traditional tea and butter rice), tea and snacks. The hauling of these sacred scripts is a routine tradition and is believed to be performed every year for the protection from evil spirits and to atone yourself from bad deeds committed in the past and the present.

In the evening, Tsang-Mo (traditional singing involving repartee usually between the sexes) will be staged. The Bhutanese folk songs and dances are becoming progressively graceful with the modern music and rhythm at the forefront. The folk festival will conclude with traditional songs, dances & the performance of the Tashi-Lebey (closing dance) in which all the participants and guests will have to join.

The event, besides paying homage to the local arts and artisans and engraving in the deepest recesses of the visitors’ senses Bhutan’s living culture and tradition, would be a possible prospective for the revelation of what has been celebrated as a truly unique existence to the global anthology of similar lifestyles of other parts of the world.

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