In Bhutan, mask dances are numerous and have different names according to their types, the best known being the Tshechus. There are two types of mask dances in Bhutan:

  1. the Boe‐chham – performed by laymen
  2. the Gyalong‐chham performed by the monks,

The performance of mask dances is a deeply spiritual affair.

In few important dzongs, two festivals take place every year: Dromchhoe, which generally includes mask dances and is dedicated to Mahakala (Yeshe Goenpo) and Mahakali (Palden Lhamo) Bhutan’s two principle protective deities and a Tshechu that is dedicated to Guru.

The masks represent saints and sages, male and female protective deities and legendary personages. The performance of the sacred mask dances is preluded by religious music of cymbals, drums, horns, conches and bells.

All the sacred mask dances be it of clergy or laity are to be understood Externally, Internally and Esoterically and should not at any cost be considered on a par with other forms of entertainment.

For the mask dancers, the dances are not mere dances, but deep meditative experiences that temporarily make them on e with the deities they are representing. It is said that the dances steps were not invented, but are rather reproductions of celestial dances that meditation masters have witnessed during deep meditative trances.

Mask dances can be grouped into three broad categories:

  1. didactic dances which are dances with morals,
  2. dances that purify and protect a place from demonic spirits and
  3. finally the dances that proclaim the victory of Buddhism and the glory of Guru Rinpoche over evil and malignant spirits.

For the Bhutanese, going to a monastery for the mask dances is more than a social gathering: It’s their entering into a magical realm where celestial blessings will protect them from all harm until the next year’s tsechu comes around.