Bhutan is famous for its panoramic beauty at the foothills of the Himalayas. Along with its mystic natural landscape, it is well known for its traditional music, songs, and dances. The rhythmic humming of the musical instruments echoes through the mountain walls.
There are different types of folk dances in Bhutan which form a part of its rich cultural heritage. The people consider the culture as sacred defined by the saints and holy men in the past. Each of these dances carries within itself an inherent meaning related to historical events or religious beliefs.
The dance is also known as the “Welcome” dance. It is performed at all special occasions at the beginning of the event.
The main purpose behind the dance is to welcome the guest of honor to enjoy the program. It especially signifies good luck for the event with a humble start.
The dance originated in the 17th century during the era of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namghyel, the spiritual leader and founder of the Kingdom of Bhutan. It is one of the oldest traditional dances and is renowned as the Royal court dance. The dance symbolizes religious beliefs and thoughts.
The dance is performed by the ladies. The ladies stand in a row with slow and consistent moves. There is no rhythm or beat in the music. The song is sung with slow and long melodies. The ladies beautifully sync up with each other, coordinating every movement with grace. It’s wonderful to watch the unity in this dance. None of the dancers deviate from the flow. The twining movement of their hands in harmony is quite entertaining.
It is a mask dance of the drums from Drametse, a village in Eastern Bhutan. “Nga” means drum and “cham” means the mask dance. It is one of the religious mask dances of Bhutan. The dance is performed during the Drametse festival. The festival is held twice a year in the honor of Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinponche, the second incarnation of Buddha.
The dancers wear masks of some mythological animals. The masks are made of wood, an artistic specialty of Bhutan. The dancers and musicians play drums, cymbals, and trumpets. It is amazing to watch the vibrant colored attires of the dancers swaying around with their mask covered heads. The dance starts with a slow movement to show respect to the deities followed by fast rapid moves.
The dance is performed by the women of Bumthang, a district located in central Bhutan. Bumthang is the main cultural and religious center. The dance is known as “Rang Yue Bumthang Lumpa”.
The women dress up in their traditional attire for the dance. The main purpose of the dance is to worship their forefathers for showering the rich culture and heritage on the land.
Ache Lhamo Dance
The dance is said to have been originated from Tibet in the 14th century. It is also known as Ashe Lhamo and is more of a dance drama. In Bhutan, the dance is said to have been performed first in the 16th century especially in Trashigang and Ura in eastern and central Bhutan respectively.
It is believed that in the late 14th century the Tibetan saint and bridge-builder Thangtong Gyalpo, initiated his projects of building iron bridges over the big rivers in Tibet. He needed donations to provide the basic amenities for the workers. To do so he summoned the Chhongje Bena family who had seven daughters. The daughters performed different roles in a drama. Many people gathered to watch the dance drama. This was the introduction of the Ache Lhamo dance.
The dance is performed by the men(herders). The drama portrays spiritual stories of deities and the miracles. The dance is accompanied by the drums and the cymbals.
Layap is a dance performed by the nomadic herders, residing in Laya. Laya is a village in northern Bhutan in the district of Gada. The Layaps are music lovers. Even the little girls are often seen dancing and singing in the lap of the mountains. They live high up in the snow-clad mountains amidst the beautiful rhododendrons and poppies. Their attires are unique and the women are often seen wearing a special type of hat. The tribes depend on the yak for their living.
The dance originated from Sikkim and is mainly performed in the respect of the yaks. In Bhutan, it is most popular on the eastern side, Merak, and Sakteng.
The dance is again a nomadic one. It talks about the life of the nomads and their various activities.
Flute Dance (Lim Bu)
Bhutan history says in the past, the forefathers used to keep the flute inside the shrine (or Choesham). They did so to summon the deities for choepa or the water offered to them in the morning.
The traditional flute is a very important part of the Bhutan culture. The dance revolves around the flute. Each of the dancers carries a flute and dance with the musicians playing the sweet melodies in the flute.
Archery (National Game)
Archery is the national game of Bhutan, played only by the men. There are several playgrounds in Bhutan where the men group up in teams for playing the game.
In this dance, two teams play a game of archery. The women try to distract the opponent teams with their songs and dances. At the end of the game, the women serve wines to the men and they dance happily together.
Tashi Laybey is the concluding dance, the last dance of any performance or event. It is meant to bid farewell to the guests.
All the guests are invited to participate in the dance. Good wishes are bestowed to all through this dance and pray for the well being of all.
During my visit to Bhutan, I had the privilege to watch each one of these dances. The fun part was swaying my hands and legs with the Tashi Laybey dance. The rhythmic movement added to the enjoyment. It was overall a wonderful experience.