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Ura's Yakchu Festival

The quiet village of Ura in the spiritual heartland of Bhutan, Bumthang, is alive with the sound of festivity. Ura' annual festival, the Yakchu, began yesterday and will continue for the next four days.

The festival is celebrated to bring happiness, better crop yield and prosperity to the village, which comprises some 60 clustered houses that is surrounded by buckwheat, potato barley fields.

But, in recent years Uraps (people of Ura) have been challenged in organising mask dances during the Tshechu. There are not many men in the village to perform the dances. "Everybody is going to school or engaged in other work outside the village," said a villager. "We're worried if there'll be anyone to perform the sacred dances in future," he said.

In an attempt to safeguard the ancient tradition the village has made it mandatory for all village men between 15 and 40 years of age to practice the dance every year before the festival. Students are exempted.

The champon (master dancer), Sonam Wangchuk, said that senior gomchens (lay monk) came up with the idea of making it mandatory. "The villagers agreed, thinking that it would ensure continuity of an old tradition. The rule will make every men learn the dance" he said. Villagers also agreed to a fine of Nu 250 a day for missing practice.

The champon said that, if it was not made compulsory, there were only a few men taking part. "It's our festival and, if we don't give importance, the festival won't continue," he said.

It is an example of community participation in preserving traditions, said a mask dancer, Pemala. "If we don't make it mandatory, everybody will have excuses, because the practice takes almost a month," he said.

Some villagers feel the government should intervene to save the festival.

Lam Jamtsho, from Ura, Somthang, said that the responsibility should not be left with the people alone, as not everyone shares the same enthusiasm. "Not all villagers will be as cooperative," he said.

Contributed by Samten Yeshi , Kuensel, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2010
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