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Yakchoe: The Grand Festival of Ura Village

 

Yakchoe: The Grand Festival of Ura Village

 

At a Glance:

Name of the festival:              Ura Yakchoe

Location:                                 Ura Makrong Village

Gewog:                                   Ura

Frequency:                              Annual

Date:                                       12-16th days of the third lunar month

Category:                                Community Festival

Host/Organizer:                      Ura Dozhi/Makrong

Event Highlight:                     Throchu Dance, Mangchen Dance and Tenkor

 

In Brief:

The Ura Yakchoe is an annual festival observed by the Ura Dozhi or Makrong village. A local village affair, it is said to have started as a commemoration of Guru Rinpoche’s arrival in the village to help residents overcome an epidemic. The main part of the festival is comprised of five days of public performances. Sacred mask dances, folk dances, a thongdrol display, and a religious ceremony that forms the core part of the festival, as well as a tradition of making rounds to local homes for alcohol and food. Oral accounts relay the festival’s historical origins and evolution, spiritual and religious significance, cultural traditions, and a distinctive socio-economic system of organisation and management. As a community cultural practice, Ura Yakchoe is a special event employed in the transmission of cultural ideas, values, knowledge, skills and stories from one generation to the other.

 

Introduction and Community Background

 

Nestled in the middle of Ura valley at roughly 3200m above sea level, Ura Makrong village is located forty-eight kilometres east of Jakar, the administrative centre of Bumthang. The village is surrounded by forests of spruce, pine, larch, fir, juniper, bamboo and rhododendrons where wildlife such as tigers, leopards, bears, boars and red pandas roam. Its beautiful landscape, bestrewn with the farmhouses, watermills, temples, stupas and prayer flags, provides a wonderful balance between a pristine natural environment and thriving traditional ways of life. Ura is one of the largest clustered villages in Bhutan, consisting of some sixty-five households and about three hundred residents. Three affiliate villages—Gaden, Pangkhar and Somthrang—are located in the upper reaches of the valley.

 

Ura is named after Urgyen Guru Rinpoche, also known as Padmasambhava, the great Indian mystic credited with bringing Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century. Older people in the region still call the valley Urbay, the hidden valley of Urgyen Rinpoche. Ura Makrong, as the term suggests, is the main village. The village is also known as Dozhi, or four sections, as Ura village is composed of four administrative divisions through which it is traditionally organized and run. A thriving community, the village produced leading religious figures, statesmen, scholars and artists throughout Bhutan’s history. Some people credit this to Ura’s drinking water while others believe it to be the blessings of a ‘hidden land’ and the works of its powerful territorial deity. It is more likely that the social structure and sense of community, for which Ura is acclaimed, are the main factors that have contributed towards making Ura a successful society. As a large traditional settlement, children had many elders to learn from and role models to emulate. Moreover, with its high altitude and comparatively arid location, the people of Ura had to struggle to survive. The geographic location of the village on a traditional trade route and modern motorable highway has also helped people gain greater exposure. Given these factors, the village has become well-known in Bhutan as a lively hub of Bhutanese culture and religion, and has served as a source of the same for other parts of central and eastern Bhutan.

 

Although there is no written record of about how the village was founded, some semi-historical accounts contain fascinating but legend-laden information about Ura's distant past. The accounts of local historians perhaps start with Padmasambhava's visit to Ura on his way to the court of Sindharaja in Jakar valley. Roughly a thousand years ago, Ura probably had its first dhung ruler, from whom rose the line of dhung nobilities in Ura and other parts of central Bhutan. A Tibetan lama Myo Dechog (1179-1265) settled in the valley in the beginning of the 13th century and gave rise to the Sumthrang choje family from whom the numerous lines of choje religious families in Bhutan descended. In their accounts of Ura, Guru Chowang (1212-70) and Longchenpa (1308-63) state that there are descendants of Tibetan royal lines in Ura. We also find some information about Ura in the 15th century in the biography of Pema Lingpa (1450-1521), whose father was a native of Ura valley. In the seventeenth century, we have written accounts of how Ura, under the rule of Dhung Nagpo, was overcome by the forces of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594-1651), the founder of Bhutan, and the territory was subsequently made part of the new state of Bhutan.

 

People of Ura were generally farmers practising agriculture and animal husbandry although many men in past also served as religious priests and government functionaries. People cultivated bitter buckwheat, sweet buckwheat, wheat, barley and many kinds of vegetables and fruits. They reared lowland cattle as well as highland yaks, and many families also kept flocks of sheep. Horses were widely used as pack animals. Ura appears to have flourished both culturally and socially. The proceedings of some dozen festivals in a calendar year indicate Ura’s vigorous cultural life and the archaic social structures, organisational mechanisms, community contracts, customs and practices suggest a vibrant and sophisticated social life.

 

 Founding of Ura Community Lhakhang

 

In spite of Ura’s rich history and religious life, it is difficult to tell when the temple, commonly known as Guru Lhakhang, was founded. It is quite plausible that a temple existed in the village for many centuries as public Buddhist ceremonies such as the worship of the Chana Dorje (Skt. Vajrapāṇi) relic, which we shall see below, were held in the village. The main relic in the temple is a bronze statue of Guru Rinpoche, which is said to have been created by an artist named Pentsadeva. This artist probably lived in the 17th century and the statue was brought to Ura in subsequent centuries but aside from oral accounts, we have no records to confirm this.

 

The Kanjur and Tanjur texts were gifted to the temple by a scion of the Ura Gup family, perhaps towards the end of the 19th century. The tradition of inviting the Gup’s family to breakfast during the Yakchoe festival as token of gratitude for this gift continues to this day. Some of the clay sculptures in the temple are said to have been created by Nyungney Rinpoche, a lama who lived in Ura around the turn of the 20th century. Thus, there is no doubt that the Ura Guru Lhakhang existed in the 19th century. Older village residents have very clear memories of the previous temple, which was in existence throughout most of the twentieth century. That smaller temple was replaced by a new, larger temple, which was consecrated in 1986 by His Holiness Dodrupchen Rinpoche. The temple, which today houses a two storeyed statue of Guru Rinpoche, was built in the 1980s through voluntary labour and contribution of resources from the villagers. In 2004, a new turret was erected by the members of the village with His Eminence Thugse Rinpoche as the chief officiant.

 

Yakchoe Festival

 

Introduction of Yakchoe Festival

Yakchoe festival is the main cultural event of Ura’s social calendar. The five-day festival brings together the members of the village to celebrate life and honour the gods. The villagers stop their agricultural works for the festival’s duration so they can to take part. The festival is always held between the 12th and 16th days of the third Bhutanese lunar month. Events combine spiritual practice, religious worship, cultural celebration, social gatherings, and a respite from the backbreaking work on the farms.

 

There are two etymologies given to explain the name Yakchoe. In what looks like the original etymology, the festival name seems to stem from a seasonal ritual of making offerings (མཆོད་པ་) to the cattle god, particularly the yak god (གཡག་ལྷ་). Before it was impacted by new Buddhist rituals, it is quite likely that the villagers were simply making offerings to the pre-Buddhist cattle gods. Even today, a ritual is performed in the deity’s chamber in the temple by a priest dressed as a pre-Buddhist shaman. The text used for this ritual is the same as the one used during the Yaklha ritual of worshipping cattle gods in the summer. Thus, the core of the festival perhaps predates the introduction of Buddhism to the Ura valley and originates from an archaic Bon ritual.

 

A second etymology is based on a Buddhist ritual of thanksgiving involving the lama and the relic. The villagers are said to have observed a ritual of offering gratitude to the lama and the relic—as we shall see below—and the lama is said to have remarked that it was a good or yagpo (ཡག་པོ་) offering or choepa (མཆོད་པ་). The name Yakchoe is supposed to have developed from this. However, this etymology is problematic as the term yagpo is a Tibetan word, not a local language, and also syntactically in the wrong place. This is most likely a later reconstruction in order to Buddhicize the festival at every level, even in its etymology.

 

While it is quite plausible that the original core of the festival was a pre-Buddhist offering ritual, a legend has emerged to account for how the Yakchoe is celebrated as a religious ceremony today. According to this account, many centuries ago the village suffered from a leprosy epidemic. The members of the village gathered and prayed to Guru Rinpoche for a cure. In response, Guru Rinpoche came to the village in the guise of a wandering mendicant. He showed up at a house on the northern edge of the village, where the lady of the house was spinning wool on the terrace. She invited him to lunch and went into the house to prepare some buckwheat pancakes while the mendicant waited. When she finished, she went out to invite him in, but the mendicant could not be found anywhere. Puzzled by the uninformed departure, she sat down to resume her work and as she lifted the bamboo container that held her wool, she found it unusually heavy. Opening it, she found a small metal statue of Chana Dorje.

 

She took the statue to the village priests, who advised her to keep the statue in her shrine and not expose it to light. On the third day, the window shutters were accidentally opened and the statue is said to have flown out of the room to Gathan Temple across the valley. In an alternate and more plausible version, the lady, after consulting the priest and other villagers, is said to have offered the statue to the lama of Gathan Temple. Gathan temple was the base for a religious nobility which claims descent from Wangchuk, one of the five sons of Phajo Drukgom Zhikpo (1184?-1251?), the master who introduced the Drukpa Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism to the western valleys of Bhutan.

 

When the statue reached Gathan Temple, local legend has it that a nine-headed serpent rose from the centre of the valley floor and made its way along the course of the river. The spot from where the serpent rose and where a school is located today, is still called Pongdhogo, shortened from po guyung dhogo or ‘nine headed snake’ in the local language. The villagers have since believed that the wandering mendicant was Guru Rinpoche coming in disguise to answer their prayers. The statue represents Guru Rinpoche’s method to cure the problem of leprosy, as the disease is traditionally believed to be caused and spread by the serpent world. Chana Dorje, holding a snake in his hands and mouth, is considered to be the most effective antidote to the serpent world. Residents claimed that the village was cured from leprosy after the statue’s arrival.

 

Today, Ura Yakchoe is observed to offer thanksgiving to Guru Rinpoche and to commemorate the arrival of the Chana Dorje relic. The festival programme and its main religious ceremony are directly connected to this local account of the image’s arrival in the temple. The festival begins with a procession wherein the lama from Gathan Temple brings the relic to the village. A religious ceremony focussed on the meditation on Chana Dorje is the main spiritual practice, and the festival concludes with the lama and statue touring the village before the relic is left at a specific house, which is thought to be the house of the lady who long ago prepared the meal for the mendicant. The Chana Dorje stays in the house for three nights, mirroring the story of its initial arrival.

 

Ura Yakchoe is not only a festival of spiritual and social celebration for the people of Ura, but it also gives them a break from their onerous farming work through an event that connects them to their shared past. It forms an important component of their perceived history, aiding in the formation of social wellbeing and cultural identity. It is perhaps the most important avenue in Ura Makrong in building community solidarity and transmission of local values, knowledge, skills and practices.

 

Hosts and Organisers

The Ura Makrong village is the main host and organiser of the festival, which is an entirely local enterprise that receives no support from the state. The Ura Makrong, or main village, is also known as Ura Dozhi, after its traditional quadripartite social and administrative units. The four units are Todpa, Charzhungpa, Tarshongpa and Krispa. Oral traditions explain how the Ura settlement was divided into four administrative units in reference to their location vis-à-vis the castle of the dhung ruler who once ruled over Ura and the adjacent area. Bhutanese historians generally agree that Ura had a strong dhung family who ruled over many areas of central Bhutan and subsequently also led to the rise of many dhung nobilities. As mentioned above, the last dhung ruler, Dhung Nagpo, was defeated by the forces fighting for Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594-1651), the founder of Bhutan. Following the annexation of his territory to the new Drukpa state under Punakha, he escaped to Tibet and perhaps died there.

 

The four units are composed of twelve to eighteen households. Each unit appoints a representative household, called the letshan, to serve one year on a rotational basis. Every letshan is supported by two other households known as taza. Collectively, these twelve families—three households from each of the four units—assume the primary responsibility for organizing Yakchoe. The meetings for administration of the village, partying and other village events take place in the respective letshan households and the four breweries that are needed for the festival are also run by the letshan and taza families. In addition to the twelve letshan and taza households, four individuals are also each year appointed as mangmi or common representatives, who are responsible for those activities associated with the temple and the festival that lie outside the traditional duties of the letshan and taza. These four are also known as lhakhang tshogpa, or member of temple committee, as they look after the welfare of the temple. There are two additional persons, normally trained in religion, one appointed as konyer or temple caretaker and another designated the kangyunpa or priest for carrying out daily rituals. As part of their duties, these two look after different parts of the temple, help with the ritual proceedings during the festival, and manage the religious artefacts such as masks and chamgoe or dance costumes.

 

 Contributions and Preparations

Preparations for the Yakchoe festival begin nearly a month in advance with the collection of cereals for brewing singchang. The village astrologer is then consulted and he selects an auspicious date to start the process of making this drink. The young men who perform the sacred mask dances also start learning and rehearsing the dances some ten days before the festival. A day before the festival, the letshan and taza families also collect the necessary food, dairy products and vegetables for the festival. The unit representatives collect a set amount of cereals, flour, rice, butter, cheese and vegetables collected from each household.


With economic changes that have made imported basic food items more available, the village has now started a festival fund, a part of which is used annually to buy raw materials that are no longer produced in the village. During the public performances, the villagers offer a lunch of local dishes, festival drinks, seating facilities and a talk on the festival, for which fees are collected from the non-Bhutanese tourists at the entrance. This money is then used for buying festival resources the following year. About a week before the festival, the four mangmi officers withdraw the money and procure the materials that have to be bought from outside the village.

 

On the 11th day of the 3rd month, the temple caretaker leads a few priests in making the ritual dough figures called tormas. That evening, the village men gather in the temple in order to taste the festival singchang drink and also appoint people to different tasks. Older men are appointed as dodampa (disciplinarians), nyerpa (store managers), dronyer (guest in-charge), chadpi garpa (penalty officers), or thabtshangpa (cooks), while younger men and women take up the role of drangshagpa or persons who serve guests and perform folk dances. On the morning of the 12th day, the priests, dancers and men gather to hoist the flags, unfurl wall hangings and make preparations for the ritual.

 

 

Ritual Prayers Conducted during Yakchoe

The main religious ceremony performed during the Ura Yakchoe festival is a Vajrayāna Buddhist meditation ritual focussed on Chana Dorje, the Bodhisattva of Power, and his retinue. The meditation practice is based on a text which is believed to have been hidden by Guru Rinpoche and rediscovered by Pema Lingpa (1450-1521), Bhutan’s foremost religious figure and one of Himalayan Buddhism’s eminent treasure discoverers, from Mendo cliff in Lhodrak in southern Tibet. The practice begins in the evening of the first day with the ritual of exorcism to cleanse the area of negative forces and to create a sacred space. Over subsequent days, the priests carry out a rigorous practice of visualisation of the deities in the maṇḍala of Chana Dorje, recitation of mantras and prayers, and offering of various items before finally receiving the blessings on the fourth day. The ceremony is carried out with the accompaniment of various religious music and dances.

 

In addition to the meditation practice involving Chana Dorje and his maṇḍala, the priests also carry out elaborate prayers to Guru Rinpoche in the morning sessions and supplications to dharma protectors in the evenings. On the second day, the priests conduct an elaborate prayer to Guru Rinpoche involving dances, instrumental music and singing. On this day, the priests also carry a detailed supplication of all tutelary deities of Ura, including territorial deities, using specific texts that contain the ritual liturgies.

 

Proceedings

Day One: Inaugural Day

  • 10.00am          Priests and men gather in the temple
  • 12.00pm          Set off to Gathan Temple to invite Lama and Yidam deity
  • 2.00pm            Start procession from Gathan temple
  • 3.00pm            Procession reaches Ura Lhakhang
  • 4.00pm            Perform cham dance test
  • 7.00pm            Start religious ceremony
  • 8.00pm            Perform exorcism ritual and dance
  • 9.00pm            Perform longevity ritual
  • 9.30pm            Changkor singchang tasting and review meeting
  • 10.00pm          Music heralding bedtime.

Day Two: Chana Dorje Day

  • 4.00am            Music for wakeup call
  • 4.30am            Prayers and rituals begin
  • 5.30am            Offer breakfast porridge
  • 7.00am            First tea for priests
  • 8.00am            Guru supplication and dance in temple
  • 8.30am            Breakfast round for villagers
  • 8.30am            Second tea for priests
  • 9.00am            Brunch for priests
  • 9.30am            Musical orchestra to herald public performance
  • 9.45am            Bringing the masks
  • 10.00               The Dance of Old Man and Old Woman
  • 11.00am          Dance of Male and Female Yamantaka
  • 11.30am          Black Hat dance
  • 12.00pm          Festival briefing for guests and lunch
  • 1.00pm            The Dance of Ten Wrathful Deities and Four Door Guardians
  • 3.30pm            Public Tea Ceremony
  • 4.30pm            The Stag and Hounds Dance
  • 6.00pm            Ura’s public folk dance
  • 6.30pm            Priests resume religious ceremony
  • 8.00pm            Tshok offering, dance and dinner for priests
  • 9.00pm            Changkor singchang tasting and review meeting
  • 10.00pm          Music heralding bedtime.

 

Day Three: Day of Protector Deities

 

  • 4.00am            Music for wakeup call
  • 4.30am            Prayers and rituals begin
  • 5.30am            Offer breakfast porridge
  • 7.00am            First tea for priests
  • 8.00am            Guru supplication and dance in temple
  • 8.30am            Breakfast round for villagers
  • 8.30am            Second tea for priests
  • 9.00am            Brunch for priests
  • 9.30am            Musical orchestra to herald public performance
  • 9.45am            Bringing the masks
  • 10.00am          Dralha Pangtoe Ritual
  • 10.30am          Drametse Drum Dance
  • 12.30pm          Festival briefing for guests and lunch
  • 1.00pm            The Ging Tsholing Dance
  • 2.00pm            The Juging Dance
  • 2.30pm            The Driging Dane
  • 3.00pm            The Ngaging Dance
  • 3.30pm            Public Tea Ceremony
  • 4.30pm            The Handsome Men and Beautiful Women
  • 6.00pm            Ura’s public folk dance
  • 6.30pm            Priests resume religious ceremony
  • 8.00pm            Tshok offering, dance and dinner for priests
  • 9.00pm            Changkor singchang tasting and review meeting
  • 10.00pm          Music heralding bedtime.

 

Day Four: Mangcham Day

 

  • 4.00am            Music for wakeup call
  • 4.30am            Prayers and rituals begin
  • 5.30am            Offer breakfast porridge
  • 7.00am            First tea for priests
  • 8.00am            Guru supplication and dance in temple
  • 8.30am            Breakfast round for villagers
  • 8.30am            Second tea for priests
  • 9.00am            Brunch for priests
  • 9.30am            Musical orchestra to herald public performance
  • 9.45am            Bringing the masks
  • 10.00am          The Stag Dance
  • 10.30am          The Raksha Dance at the Door
  • 11.30am          Festival briefing for guests and lunch
  • 12.00pm          The Dance of the Messengers of Death
  • 3.30pm            Public Tea Ceremony
  • 4.30pm            The Stag and Hounds Dance
  • 6.00pm            Ura’s public folk dance
  • 6.30pm            Priests resume religious ceremony
  • 8.00pm            Tshok offering, Chala Prediction and Tashi ceremony
  • 9.30pm            Changkor singchang tasting and review meeting
  • 10.00pm          Music heralding bedtime.

 

Day Five: Tenkor Day

 

  • 7.00am            Preparation of Thongdrol
  • 8.30am            Breakfast round for villagers
  • 8.30am            Brunch for priests
  • 9.00am            Bringing out the Thongdrol
  • 9.30am            Thongdrol ceremony
  • 10.00               Zhengshi Pema Dance
  • 10.30am          Zhugdrel Ceremony
  • 11.00am          Offering to thongdrol
  • 12.00pm          Folding of thongdrol
  • 12.30pm          Lunch
  • 1.30pm            Wang ceremony
  • 2.30pm            Tenkor Tour of the Village
  • 7.00pm            Farewell to the Lama
  • 7.30pm            Changkor in the village.

 

The five days of festival is often followed by a day of archery among men or a picnic on the meadow for all the dancers and priests who take part in the festival.

 

Performances Unique to Yakchoe Festival 

 

The Chana Dorje Dance

The set of dances depicting the Chana Dorje maṇḍala and the associated spiritual practices is the main ceremony of Ura Yakchoe, and is unique to this festival. The dance has three components. First, the dance of nyulema or zhawri, which symbolizes the ego and all concomitant negative emotions, is performed by a mostly naked dancer. This is followed by the dance of four garuḍa, which represent spiritual forces emanating from the figure of Chana Dorje. The main component is the throchu dance of Chana Dorje and the ten wrathful deities in his retinue. The dance of gomazhi, or the four door guardians, takes place in the middle of the main throchu dance.

 

The Public Dance

Every evening, after the end of the cham dances, the village men and women led by a man playing a chain of bells perform some of Ura’s unique folk songs and dances. Many of these compositions are not known outside Ura and rarely performed, even in Ura.

 

The Jakor Changkor and Tenkor Rounds

Among the most jovial of festival events are the breakfast rounds led in the morning by the two clowns, and the village tour with the relic and lama held on the final afternoon. Traditions of checking the quality of singchang drink, local hospitality, robust sense of humour and some unique songs and chants can be observed during the rounds.

 

Other Religious Events Held at Ura Community Lhakhang  

The Yakchoe is one of over a dozen festive events in Ura’s annual ritual calendar. The Ura Guru Lhakhang is the venue for most of these scheduled events including the nyuney ritual in the first month, reading of the Kanjur in the second month, zhingdrub ceremony in the fourth, sang in the seventh, drubchen in the eighth and gonpo ritual in the ninth month. Other religious events and funerary ceremonies also take place in the temple.

 

Challenges for Its Survival

 

The Ura Yakchoe Festival today has become a very elaborate event for the Ura Makrong village. Yet, like many other festivals across Bhutan, it is also facing unprecedented challenges. Foremost among them is the problem of demographic shift. With the general development of a cash economy and secondary and tertiary sectors of employment, almost two-thirds of Ura’s working adult population now lives and works in other parts of Bhutan or abroad, primarily in government offices, schools, hospitals and companies. This outward migration has reduced the work force in the village, leaving behind mostly aged parents. Although Ura Makrong does not yet suffer from rural-urban migration as severely as some other parts of Bhutan, and no households have been left vacant, the shortage of manpower for organizing the festival is emerging as a serious problem.

 

As the residents who live outside the village cannot always make it to the festival, there are not people to perform the cham and folk dances, brew alcohol, work in the kitchen, serve guests and carry out the religious ceremonies. Faced with the problem of not having enough cham dancers, the village has made it mandatory for all men below forty years of age to learn the cham dances and offer a modest daily fee for the training. This, however, soon turned into a financial burden for a festival, which generated little or no income. Moreover, as agricultural production has gone down in the village and people’s consumption habits have changed, most of the ingredients for food during the festival are also bought from outside. This requires significant funds which the village cannot easily generate.

 

As in other communities, materialism has also been insidiously creeping into Ura Makong and is eating away the traditional spirit of solidarity and voluntarism. Personal economic gains are placed before community events such as the Yakchoe festival and some villagers even miss the festival in order to tend to their business, while others exploit the occasion to make money for themselves. There is also a rising sense of individualism and self-importance which is gnawing at the traditional sense of mutual concern, robust humour and ways of respecting elders and guiding the youth. With no secure source of revenue and dwindling voluntary participation, the Ura Yakchoe festival faces the serious challenge of sustainability. Some villages in Bhutan have completely stopped their festivals; the sustainability of Yakchoe festival will be a true test of Ura Makrong’s social persistence and solidarity.

 

Significance

 

The Ura Yakchoe festival plays an important role in the wellbeing of the residents of Ura Makrong. From a spiritual and religious perspective, the festival is considered an important spiritual and religious event, when people come to pray and make offerings to the Three Jewels and the tutelary deities of Ura. Above all, it is an occasion to commemorate Guru Rinpoche’s help the local residents, and to offer him continued gratitude for his intervention. Yakchoe is a time to make amends for one’s failures and transgressions, and to beseech the deities to give protection and blessings. Most residents view the Yakchoe festival as an annual rimdro ritual that ensures the welfare of the village. The rituals they attend and the dances they watch have strong spiritual messages for them, which they internalize as part of their spiritual life.

 

The festival is the most important cultural event for residents, and one when the best traditions of the community are observed and reinforced. From religious rituals, cham dances and folk dances to hospitality practices and brewing singchang, the event gives villagers an opportunity to practice and uphold cultural heritage. It is an avenue by which traditional values, practices, knowledge and skills are passed down from the older to the younger generations. Thus, the festival serves as a vitally important channel for cultural transmission.

 

Socially, the festival is the biggest occasion which brings villagers together in celebration. Providing a respite from back-breaking labour in the fields, the festival offers villagers one of the longest holiday periods of the year, and a chance to relax among family. It also gives them an opportunity to connect with other members of the village and external guests, to eat and drink together, play pranks, dance and pray together. Leaving behind their individual and family lives for the duration of the festival, the village spends much of the time together as a community.

 

Economically, the festival is a clear marker of Ura’s economic standing. More recently, the Ura Yakchoe has become a highlight in tourist programmes, being ranked as the fifth most popular cultural event in Bhutan after Paro, Thimphu and Wangdi Tshechus and the Jambay Lhakhang Drup. Among small village festivals, it has attracted the highest number of visitors with as many as two hundred tourists attending the festival each day. Today, a vast majority of the audience in the temple courtyard are tourists who hail from around the world. The festival, therefore, is an opportunity that can benefit the village economically while also enriching the experience of the visitors. To this effect, the villagers have started offering the singchang drink and tea, a luncheon of local delicacies, a talk on the festival and seating facilities in return for a collection of small donation. In this way, Ura Makrong hopes to better leverage its rich past towards a sustainable future.

 

To the rest of the world, Ura’s festival is a main event when hundreds of visitors from the around the world converge in the village to witness its cultural and social vitality. Thus, the festival offers a window into Ura’s cultural, social and economic standing, and proof of Bhutan’s claim to cultural integrity and social wellbeing.

 

Conclusion

The Ura Yakchoe festival epitomizes the stresses and tension, challenges and opportunities that community festivals in Bhutan face today. With its rich history, vibrant spiritual, cultural and social aspects, Yakchoe also represents an exemplary cultural heritage, which many prosperous communities of Bhutan practised in the past. As globalization continues its march across the country, bringing about massive socio-cultural changes to the lives of people even in the remotest outposts, cultural events such as Ura Yakchoe will face numerous challenges. Their status will serve as a yardstick of the Bhutanese aptitude for visionary thinking, social resilience, smart adaptation and sustainable development.

Undoubtedly, the force of change will put Ura’s social integrity and conviction to a real test, and in the years to come Ura will desperately need the vision, wisdom, dexterity and dedication, for which it has been renowned in the past. Only then can the village be sure that the prayers of Gathan Gathpo, the chief clown and master of ceremonies, that the festival ‘next year be grander than this year, the year after next be grander than next year’ (daning wa namung jaiwa, namung wa di mung jai wa) really will come true.

 

References

Gelong Ngawang (2003), Sa skyong rgyal po’i gdung rabs ‘byung khungs dang ‘bangs kyi mi rabs chag tshul, Thimphu: Centre for Bhutan Studies.

Karma Phuntsho (2015), ‘The Cultural Construction of Bhutan: An unfinished story’, The Druk Journal, Spring 2015, pp. 53-61.

---------------------- (2006), ‘Grappling with Change’, Bhutan Now, Thimphu: November, 2006.

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This essay was originally published as a contribution under the title "Yakchod: The Grand Festival of Ura Village" to the volume Splendours of Our Heritage: Festivals of Bumthang Dzongkhag. Illustrated version. Thimphu: National Library and Archives of Bhutan, 2018, p. 208-220. ISBN: 978-99936-17-31-0. Republished with the permission of the National Library and Archives of Bhutan.

Bhutan Cultural Library Dance of the Yak Traditional Festivals Account of a Monastery or Temple Ura
Yakchoe: The Grand Festival of Ura Village

This essay was published as a contribution under the title "Yakchod: The Grand Festival of Ura Village" to the volume Splendours of Our Heritage: Festivals of Bumthang Dzongkhag. Illustrated version. Thimphu: National Library and Archives of Bhutan, 2018, p. 208-220. ISBN: 978-99936-17-31-0

In the text only version, the contribution appears on p.207-220. ISBN: 978-99936-17-32-7.

Collection Bhutan Cultural Library
Visibility Public - accessible to all site users
Author Karma Phuntsho
Editor Yonten Dargye
Year published 2018
Original year published 2018
Language English
Subjects
Places
Terms
Rights Copyright 2018 Karma Phuntsho and the National Library and Archives of Bhutan. Republished with the permission of the National Library and Archives of Bhutan. For educational and cultural use only with attribution. No commercial or derivative uses permitted.
Creative Commons Licence