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Monday, June 2, 2014

“Changing Bhutanese perceptions toward traditional festivals due to the emerging modern trends”

Celebrating festivals is a tentative moment of every nation around the world. Different countries have its own way of celebrating on the bases of one’s unique cultural and tradition.
Likewise, Bhutan too has its own ways and styles of conducting and celebrating festivals uniquely comparing to other nations. Bhutan is one country in this Tibetan Buddhist world that festivals have been keeping the same trends without much changes from its origin till present generation in term of celebrating traditional festival. (Mystic Bliss tours and travels).
In Bhutan there are many types of festivals such as national, religious and seasonal festivals. Amount all the prominent one is the  Tshechu festivals meaning 10th day of the  month according to Bhutanese calendar.
During the Tsechu
Traditional tshechu festivals originated with the influx of Guru Padmasambhava – “one who was born from a lotus flower”Guru Rinpoche , the precious Teacher in the 8th century. . Later with the arrival of great saints Terton Pema Lingpa ( the treasure discoverer) and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgay in the year 1450 and 1616 respectively. And today Tshechu festivals are celebrated to honored them and some festivals are celebrated to commemorate the deeds of the Buddha or those of the great masters of the past associated with Buddhist traditions or another traditions. None the less some festivals are introduced to celebrated the completion of the temple or lhakhang in the 9th century.
Different festivals have different significance and they have their own ways of beliefs and consideration as per their customs and traditions around the world. Primarily, they all serve the purpose of bringing happiness to our lives and strengthen our sense of community, yet they do have other aspect .  But with the emerging of modern trends such as economic development, in flow of tourist and importing of foreign goods, the Bhutanese perceptions toward traditional festivals are changing. Over the past several decades, Bhutan has faced both external and internal threats to its culture.
In addition, Bhutan also has had to combat the various threats that modernization poses to its  medieval culture.  Both government sources and social scientists have noted the impacts of modernization, especially on Bhutanese youth. (Mathou 1999; Planning Commission 2001).     
 Increase in flow of tourist is the one major reason for modernization of the country and people tent to imitate their life styles and importing of foreign goods makes society more lethargic which harms the tradition of the nations as a whole. And marrying foreigner usually leads to clash of religion and leads to forgo one’s religion and too Media has given lots of negative impact to the country. 
 It is believed that everyone must attend a tshechu and witness the mask dances at least once in order to receive blessings and wash away their sins. Bhutan’s masked dance festivals, called tsechus in the local language of Dzongka, date back three and a half centuries.  At that time the monks were both the civil and religious authorities, and the dances were used to educate an illiterate populace about their history and religion.  The dances have been handed down from one generation to the next, and remain virtually unchanged from their origins.

Every mask dance performed during a tsechu has a special meaning or a story behind it and many are based on stories and incident from as long ago as the 8th century during the Guru Padmasambhava.Two of the most popular tshechus in the country are the Paro and Thimphu festivals in term of participation and audience. The Thimphu Tsechu was established by the 4th Temporal Ruler, Tenzing Rabgye (1638-1696) in 1670 on the 8th month of Bhutanese calendar to commemorate the birth of Guru Rinpoche.
Besides the locals people many tourist from across the world are attracted to these unique colorful and exciting displays of traditional culture. An auspicious event of many of the tsechus is the unfurling of the Thongdrel from the main building overlooking the dance area (Mystic Bliss Tours and Travels). As the word Thongdrel itself mean ‘liberation on sight’ it is said that by seeing or watching that bad Karma would get vanished. So people come rushing to witness that as it is unfolded by the sunrise.
Local festival especially, tsechu besides being a religious event to feel blessed and cleansed of sins, it help people get refresh and relax after their long period of doing tiring work. So in the past people prepare and plan to go for tshechu before a week is left for the Tsechu to happen, they even borrows clothes and  coral, torques if they don’t have all those in themselves. They gets excited and energetic to go for tshechu but now “the feeling of enjoyment has been replaced with the feeling of detestation” (Kunsel,2014,4,14,p.4).
RAPA dancing Bodra
 In 1987, monastic authorities in Bhutan voiced complaints about disrespectful photography (Shackley 1999b). A commission on tourism was formulated to investigate the complaints. The commission confirmed the inappropriate behavior of tourists and noted “growing materialism” among monastic authorities who were accepting gifts from tourists (Mowforth and Munt 1998, 153). Additionally, the commission reported “tourism may have an adverse moral impact on young people if they observe tourists’ behavior that might be interpreted as belittling the mystical power of the country’s religion”.
Now we rarely can see young people going for festival and instead they watch it live on television. Some people do not go for Tsechu because they don’t get a good place to sit, stay with family and they even don’t get a place to park their cars so “it is no longer about family get-togethers, meeting friends and witnessing, what tourists visiting country calls an open theatre play”( Kunsel,2014,4,14,p.4). So people neglect to go for festivals and rather stays at home watching television as “they are better seen on the silver screen to be better identified and in fact feel more blessed” (Kunsel,2014,4,14,p.4).

Handoyo,C.(2014). Tourism council of bhutan. Retrieved from http://www.drukasia.com/bhutan-festivals.

Kuensel, Editorial, (2014, April 14). p.4

Mystic Bliss tours and travels. (n.d). Retrieved from http://www.bhutanmystic bliss.com/Bhutan_travel/festivals of Bhutan.html.

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