Festivals in Bhutan

Bhutan is a deeply spiritual nation. Every valley is dotted with monasteries and temples; every stream has a prayer wheel built to accumulate righteous merit; and every hilltop has prayer flags which flutter against the gentle breeze. These structures serve as a reminder of the dominant sway of Buddhism over the lives of the people.

The spiritual influence is highly visible in the everyday life. Religious ceremonies and rituals are performed regularly with deep reverence. In fact, the people’s daily routine is drawn from the religious divinations. A typical Bhutanese calendar is filled with religious festivals, irrespective of seasons. These events provide the devotees a strong basis to cultivate a “living faith”.

No occasion expresses Bhutanese culture like religious festivals. They are held throughout the year all over the country but the most popular ones are in the districts of Thimphu, Paro, and Bumthang. The places come to life with colour, music and dance as the people come dressed in their best clothes to witness this ancient tradition, accumulate spiritual merit and rejoice in the post-harvest season.

The dances date back to the middle ages or beyond. For tourists, these festivals are an ideal opportunity to witness Bhutan’s cultural and religious extravaganza upclose.

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On this page you can find out more about the most important festivals in Bhutan.

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TRONGSA FESTIVAL

All the festivals in Bhutan share the same theme, but each festival has its own special flavor. Different locals and venues provide a kaleidoscope of sight and sound. The Trongsa festival usually takes place in December or January, depending on the Bhutanese calendar.

This festival is less congested than the more popular ones, providing visitors with a better opportunity to experience and photograph the events on a more intimate level.

PARO FESTIVAL

This festival usually takes place in March or April each year, depending upon the Bhutanese lunar calendar. It is considered one of the most colorful and wonderful of Bhutan's many festivals and is very popular with visitors.

Festival participants don ornamental dresses and elaborate costumes that are worn just once a year. Other highlights of the Paro Festival include the Thongdrel on the last day.

Thongdrel is a huge religious scroll, usually with the image of Bhutanese protector deity, Guru Rimpoche, dressed in bright silk. The scroll is lowered on the last day of the Festival in the early hours of the morning, and is rolled back up before direct sunlight touches it.

THIMPHU FESTIVAL

This is another one of the great festivals of Bhutan. Like the Paro festival, its timing depends upon the Bhutanese lunar calendar, but usually occurs in September or October.

Because it is held in the populated capital of Bhutan, the Thimphu festival can be congested. This can make picture-taking challenging. One has to come early to secure a place to sit and watch the Festival.

The Thimphu festival takes place inside the capital-building courtyard. The capital building also houses the offices for the King, Ministry of Home Affairs, as well as summer residences for the monks when they move to the capital from their Punakha winter residence.

FESTIVAL DATES 2019

JAMPA LHAKHANG DRUP FESTIVAL

Although the origin and purpose of the festival cannot be exactly determined, the Jampa Lhakhang Drup is regarded as one of the most ancient and sacred of all festivals in the region. The tradition of people from this area is to congregate in a spirit of piety and festivity on the 15th day of the ninth month of the Bhutanese calendar.

The well-known historian on Bhutan, the late Dr. Michael Aris, pointed out that this ancient festival retained some remnants of the old Agricultural New Year, which falls at the winter solstice and which has almost disappeared from this part of the country.

PUNAKHA TSHECHU FESTIVAL

Between 1616 AD and 1651 AD, Zhabdrung had to wage around five major wars against the invading forces of Desi Tsangpa Phuntsho Namgyel and his successors. The Bhutanese militia under the able guidance of Zhabdrung himself was able to defeat the invaders. During those wars, Lam Zhabdrung also sought the support of the guardian Deities, particularly Palden Lhamo and Pal Yeshey Goenbo.

Punakha Drubchen therefore celebrates two important events:

a) Worship of the guardian deities and presentation of the deities to the public through mask dances performed by the monks. b) Enactment of ancient military scenes by Pazaps.
Totally different than other Festivals in the Kingdom, the Domchey depicts the events of the 17thn century -- specifically, how the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel came to Bhutan from Tibet. When he came to Bhutan, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel brought valuable treasure from Tibet with him.

The Tibetan Army came to Punakha Dzong to retrieve the treasure and fought a battle with the Bhutanese defenders. In this festival, four different villages participate, each representing a different army that fought in this historic battle.

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