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Glimpses of Paro Tshechu

As eighty-year old Gyem walks into the courtyard of the dzong, supported by a walking stick and her grand daughter, a middle-aged woman offers a place next to her.

Mumbling a soft 'kadrin che' her attention shifts to the mask dance being performed. "I have never missed Paro tshechu ever since I was a little girl," she said.

Gyem from Tashidingkha in Paro said she has attended the tshechu countless times. "When I was a child I came to the tshechu with my parents. Today I have come with my daughter and my granddaughter," she said.

Aum Gyem
Gyem has never attended any other tshechu than the Paro tshechu.

When it is time for the tshechu, Gyem leaves all work. "I woke up early, prepared lunch and walked to the dzong," she said. She told that over the years many new features had been introduced in the tshechu, which included boe chham and zhey. "Today, they even have hundreds of stalls outside," she said. As an atsara passes a comment to a girl in the crowd, Gyem bursts out laughing. "I pray to witness the tshechu for more years to come," she said, still laughing.

Bangchungs out
Paro Tshechu It is lunchtime. Driver Tenzin and his family who are attending the tshechu take out their midday meal from brand new china made containers. The traditional bangchung (bamboo container) is not seen.

The bangchung that used to be commonplace not long ago to carry pack lunch has now been replaced by hot cases, plastic tiffins and other imported containers.

Paro Tshechu "Bangchungs were hardly used these days," said Angay Om, 77. "Before it was a necessity and for tshechu we selected the best bangchungs," she said, adding that the curry was wrapped in a plastic and was put inside the bangchung. "It tasted wonderful."

Chuki from a nearby handicraft stall said that Bhutanese rarely bought bangchungs. The tourists mostly bought it, as a 'decoration item'.

Paro Tshechu Picking up a lunch box from the crowd, the atsaras open it and declares that the harvest this year will be 'good'.

"That's if the food inside the box is up to the brim," said one of the three atsaras after performing zachum/soekha on the first day of the tshechu.

Besides entertaining and having role and significance of their own, atsaras of the Paro tshechu have an additional role to play, according to the atsara gom (head) Kinley.

Pesar for children
Paro Tshechu A group of children enter the Paro Rinpung Dzong, giggling and pulling at each other.

Most of the children, especially girls, were wearing the hand woven pesar(new design) kiras.

"I am wearing the pesar kira for the first time," said Dema, a Class VI student. "I used to wear the machine made kira or the plain mathra for the tshechu."

The pesar kira appears to be the most popular wear among children under 16 years at the Paro tshechu.

Sedey, also a Class VI student, said her mother wove her a pesar kira especially for the Tshechu.

Paro Dzong On the fourth day, two of the atsaras appear as 'boe', the laymen, wearing gho. "They represent the two important saints, and signifies that the saints visit the tshechu on that day and only those who are pious will recognise them," said Kinley.

Women who have problems conceiving should approach atsaras few days before the tshechu and offer a bowl of rice and an egg along with nyendar (monetary offering) , according to Kinley.

"After the tshechu, if the egg which is kept in the Ney khang has a mark or a colour on it, it symbolise the live and death of that child," he said.

On the last day, the atsaras also appear as women, played around with men and acted like they have given birth to bring merit to infertile women. "The child believed to be born with the blessings of an atsara is usually named Goem, meaning guest," said Kinley.

Among the adults few wore the pesar kira. Kira without designs, mostly mathra and pangtse, was their choice of wear.

"Plain kiras worn with matching wonju and tego look much better than the colourful ones," said Tshering Dema, a housewife. Another said that it was not the design but the neatness and comfort that mattered.

"Pesar is considered special and usually worn on the last day of the tshechu," said a 56-year-old woman from Punakha. "More people attend the tshechu on the last day," she said.

Among the men, the bura lungsem and aikapur weave were the popular wear.

Contributed by Kesang Dema, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper 2006
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