Behind The Mask: The Druk Wangyel Tsechu

 

Druk Wangyel Tsechu is celebrated every December 13 on a hilltop at 3100 metres near Dochula Pass, with snow-clad Himalayas as stunning backdrop. Inaugurated in 2011 at the behest of Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, Druk Wangyel is one of Bhutan's newest festivals. Its all-original dances commemorate and reenact a crucial military operation in 2003 led by the great fourth King of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck.

In a peaceful country like Bhutan where conflict is anathema, military operations are extremely rare. Yet this one proved necessary. Assamese militants were hiding out from the Government of India in Bhutan's otherwise uninhabited southern forests. In a brilliant ambush that saw the militants dislodged in one night, the Royal Bhutan Army emerged victorious.

The performers of this festival thus have a sacred duty: not only to accustom spectators to protector deities and other less-material divine entities — as all festivals in Bhutan do — but also to retell the stories of real people.

Here a few of the dancers take off their masks to tell their own stories as private citizens of the Dragon Kingdom.

“The performances express this divine level: they portray compassion, miraculous powers. And people are reminded that all those things are possible for you to do, if you also activate that divine side of yourself.”
Dasho Karma Ura, President, Centre for Bhutan Studies

Dr. Karma Ura taking an interview after the Druk Wangyel Tsechu

Dr. Karma Ura taking an interview after the Druk Wangyel Tsechu

Dedicated to Her Majesty Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck. Thank you for creating Druk Wangyel Tsechu for the people of our nation.

STORY BY TREVOR ZELMAN

PHOTOGRAPHY BY MATT DESANTIS

 
StoryTrevor Zelman