The Himalayan region is home to unique traditions and practices, most of which have been heavily influenced by Himalayan Buddhism. Tsechu festival is one such example with northern Buddhists communities practicing the tradition in their unique ways.
In Nepal too, the Tsechu festival is witnessed uniquely. Tshechu festival, also known as Chhechu is widely celebrated by the Hyolmo community in the Helambu region of Sindhupalchowk district. This festival is celebrated by the neighboring villages of Sermathang, Tarkeghyang, Melemchighyang, Nakote, Kutumsang, Ghangyul,Tshengyunche, Tapkharka, and Kaje. It is observed every year for eleven days following Sonam Lhosar, beginning from the Panchami (5th day of the Lunar calendar) till the Purnima (full moon). This festival also marks a new year for the community. It is celebrated to commemorate the birth anniversary of Guru Rimpoche or Mahaguru Padmasambhava. Among Buddhists, Helambu is also known as the place where Padmasambhava meditated in the pristine caves situated in the region. Padmasambhava is revered as the pioneer in spreading tantric Buddhism in Tibet and across the Himalayas. It is believed that he had hidden his religious scriptures and other valuable ritual objects related to practicing yoga and meditation in these caves for his future followers.
Helambu is also home to ancient monasteries, stupas, and chaityas. The Ama Yangri (3771 m) peak which stands behind the village is worshipped as a sacred deity by local inhabitants. During the festival, a special Tshechu puja is performed by reciting Hyum scriptures by Lamas, high Buddhist priests for five days. Then the Tsechu festival begins with large social gatherings of the people from the nearby villages. The locals witness the festival by organizing bonfires and feasts, a good excuse to socialize and enjoy the presence of each other. There is a unique tradition of the festival being organized by one or two households in rotation. While other households contribute food and other resources required during the festival. According to Buddhist scripture, it is customary to celebrate the victory over demons through tantric dances as performed by Guru Rimpoche and ancient Lama priests. Phurba Lama Hyolmo, president of the Palmo Choling Monastery says the annual Tshechu Puja is performed hoping for happiness, peace, and prosperity for mankind.
The Tshechu festival is known for its traditional mask dances. In the rhythm of the folklore and musical instruments, the Lamas chant mantras accompanied by traditional music during which the dancers wear elaborate costumes along with wooden masks. The dances are performed to symbolize the demons and deities. The rest of the community also joins in singing and dancing while forming a circle holding each other’s arms, a dance known as Syabru. The community rejoices with great enthusiasm and the festival continues from morning until late evening.
According to Purna Lama, a scholar and educator from Shyugenche village, the festival is celebrated to avoid catastrophic floods, diseases, and conflicts through worship as per the Buddhist rituals and tradition. They wish for world peace and human liberation through the elimination of greed, jealousy, and anger; the demons are exorcized according to religious law. 'The festival of Tshechu culminates the following day with 'wong' blessings offered by the Lama priest to all the attendees during Tshechu,' says Lama.
During the festive occasion, even the local natives residing outside the village return to their homes to meet family and friends while the guests are treated well and are served with locally brewed liquor, butter tea, and local Hyolmo dishes. During this time, the Lama sanctifies all the villagers by distributing and anointing them with nectar.
This year, the Tshechu festival was observed on the second week of February. Tashi D. Hyolmo, General Secretary of Hyolmo Samaj Kendra says, “In Kathmandu, all Hyolmo communities celebrate the festival by gathering at the Hyolmo monastery at Tinchuli, Boudha. It is held on the tenth day of the Lunar calendar after a month of observing it in Helambu.’
How to reach:
If you wish to observe the Tsechu festival, the region is accessible from Kathmandu Jorpati viaSankhu, Jaharsinghpauwa, Melamchi to Sermathang which is about about 62 km. It takes 3.5 hours by car. Similarly, a trekking route follows Sundarijal, Chisapani, Kutumsang, Tharepati, Tarkeghyang, andSermathang. There are homestay facilities available in Sermathang, Take Ghyang, Melemchighyang, Nakota, and Kutumsang villages.