Among the many revered events on the kingdom's calendar, the Punakha Drubchen Festival shines as a captivating manifestation of spiritual reverence and historical importance. Also known as Punakha Dromche, this festival precedes the Punakha Tshechu. The mask dances performed during this festival are inspired by real historical events, particularly recounting the story of the Pazaps and Bhutan's triumph over Tibetan invaders. With its profound historical significance, the Punakha Drubchen Festival serves as a commemoration of Bhutanese victory against Tibetan forces.

The festival takes place on the grounds of the stunning Punakha Dzong.

About Punakha Drubchen

The warriors who served under Zhabdrung Zgawang Namgyel are commonly referred to as Pazaps. They belong to the Wang Tshochengye, one of the prominent clans within the Thimphu and Punakha regions. Adorned in red and black attire, Pazaps symbolize the troops of Zhabdrung, and only residents of Wang Tshochenye are eligible to assume this role.

As for the background of the Punakha Drubchen, the festival revives an ancient tradition by reenacting a play portraying a group of warriors embarking on a battle. Held annually on the 24th day of the 12th month in the Bhutanese calendar, which corresponds to the end of February or the beginning of March, the celebration pays homage to Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and his successful resistance against invading Tibetan forces. The reenactment commemorates a pivotal event from the 17th century when Tibetan forces invaded Bhutan in pursuit of the sacred relic Rangjung Kharsarpani. The climax of the festival occurs on its final day.

Historical Significance of Punakha Drubchen

The origins of Punakha Drubchen can be traced back to a momentous event in Bhutanese history. In 1639, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal successfully repelled Tibetan invaders during a siege of the Punakha Dzong. To commemorate this victory and honor the bravery of the defenders, the Punakha Drubchen festival was established.

Enactment at Punakha Drubchen

The enactment during Punakha Drubchen sees seventeen actors donning their finest combat attire, consisting of intricately patterned ghos, yellow silk skirts adorned with colorful ribbons, and white, blue, and red felt boots. Led by eight generals known as Magpons, the actors also sport heavy metal helmets embellished with flags, a signature feature of the Pazaps, who carry gleaming swords by their sides.

Each Pazap performs the Lengmag dance in the grand courtyard of the dzong, paying homage to His Holiness the Je Khenpo. Subsequently, they depart the dzong in large groups, accompanied by grand gestures, loud noises, and the blowing of whistles.

The enactment continues with the generals mounting their horses and riding off in different directions to save sacred artifacts threatened by submersion in the river. Meanwhile, outside the dzong complex, a religious parade unfolds, consisting of hundreds of monks and lams from the Drukpa Kagyu sect, bedecked in the sect's distinctive high red hats.

The enactment of the battle reaches its climax at the Mochhu riverbank, where the parade halts for the Luu Chok, a religious ceremony conducted by His Holiness the Je Khenpo. Clad in a black hat and a formidable apron adorned with the fearsome head of Mahakala, His Holiness symbolically tosses oranges into the river, representing the precious relic Rangjung Kharsapani.

It is believed that with the symbolic submersion of the relic, the Pazaps have emerged victorious. The day concludes with jubilant celebrations in the dzong courtyard, as the generals are ceremoniously carried up the stairs in triumph.

Originally staged by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in 1639 to deceive invading Tibetans into believing the relic had been lost in the river, the ritual serves as both a gesture of gratitude to the protective deities and a testament to Zhabdrung's strategic prowess in battle.

The Punakha Drubchen remains one of Bhutan's oldest and most revered festivals, drawing thousands of locals and visitors annually to witness its rich cultural pageantry and historical significance.

Community Spirit

Locals from nearby villages actively participate in the festival, offering prayers, making offerings, and attending the colorful ceremonies. The festival serves as a unifying force, bringing together people from all walks of life to share in the blessings and camaraderie of the occasion.

The Punakha Drubchen festival stands as a testament to Bhutan's rich cultural heritage and unwavering devotion to its spiritual traditions. Through its timeless rituals, vibrant ceremonies, and profound symbolism, the festival offers a poignant glimpse into the kingdom's storied past and enduring spiritual legacy. 

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Festival Dates

  • Feb 16, 2024 - Feb 18, 2024
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