Punakha Drubchen is one of the oldest festivals of the district. This is a detailed dramatization of how the local Bhutanese militia duped and defeated an invading Tibetan army and forced them to withdraw. Punakha Drubchen, was introduced by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate the victory over the Tibetans, when Bhutan was invaded several times by Tibetan forces seeking to seize a very precious relic, the Ranjung Kharsapani. Since then Punakha Drubchen became the annual festival of Punakha Dzongkhag.
Unlike most of other festivals in Bhutan, Punakha Drubchen is unique. It hosts a dramatic recreation of the scene from the 17th century battle with Tibetan army. The ‘pazaps’ or local militia men dressed in traditional battle gear recreate the ancient battle scene. This reenactment harkens back to the time when in the absence of a standing army, men from the eight Tshogchens or great village blocks of Thimphu came forward and managed to expel the invading forces from the country. Their victory ushered in a period of new-found internal peace and stability.
Detailed Festival program of the Punakha Drubchen Festival
- Arranging of camps
- Reading out the Code of Conduct.
- Handing over the dresses to the Kabji Gup
- The pazaps will go for bathing in procession following the age-old tradition.
- Handing over dresses to the Gups.
- The gups will present themselves to the Je Khenpo.
- Co-inciding with the performance of ‘Shenje Phag’ in the Monk’s Assembly Hall, the pazaps along with their respective gup and Drungpa will make their way into the Dzong carrying their Tsendhar or flag.
- Drubchen Mask Dance program.
- ‘Zhugdrel Tendrel’ program inside the temple of eight pillars for the pazaps.
- The pazaps will return to their respective camps after the talk by the Je Khenpo.
- Zhugdrel Phunsum Tshogpa.
- Singing the ‘Lenma’ or ballad and performance of ‘Bhed’ or Victory Dance.
- Kabjips will fire in the air in the as a wake-up call with a victory walk over to Changyul.
- Zhugdrel Tendrel & performance of ‘Bhed’ or Victory Dance.
- Taking gruel inside the camp and making offerings of wine.
- As i) Kabjips ii) Toep iii) Chang and iv) Kawangpas proceed in the above order across the Mochu Bridge to assemble near the side of the dzong, each individual makes an attempt to be the first person to offer betel nut to whoever they meet first.
- Forming two lines they will walk around the dzong singing ‘Lekso’ hauling victory, firing in the air and after similarly completed going round the Dzongchung Chorten or miniature Dzong they will proceed to Zomphakha grounds where each will carry out his duty.
- Dasho Dzongdag will serve the welcome tea.
- Four of the ‘Lenma’ performers will perform the dance.
- Drungpas and the Penlops will perform ‘Bhed’ or victory dance.
- Witnessing the indoor mask dance.
- Making wine offerings in the area.
- Checking whether the things are as per the list.
- Offering songs to Je Khenpo from the base of the flag at the entrance to the dzong.
- Traditional sports Competition such as, Shot Putt, Carrying sand bags, Sawing timber, Tree climbing.
- ‘Torbuel’ or making offerings.
- The pazaps will enter the dzong and tie their Tsendhars or flags on pillars. After the prayer ritual is over, the preceptor to the ‘Dep’ or governor will read out the ‘Chayig Chenpo.’
- Singing ‘Lenma’
- Holding one’s own ‘Chogdha’ or arrow of victory in the hands, each individual will do an explanation or description of it.
- The four Drungpas will enter the temple of eight pillars or ‘Kagayma Lhakhang’.
- Continuing performing the ’Bhed Dance’ at the base of ‘Machen Tshelshing’ or the ‘Orange Tree of the Great Mummy’ they will proceed outside from the upper entrance of the dzong towards the place called ‘Norbu Chu Shaksa.’
- The pazaps who make exit from the lower entrance to the dzong will go to Changyul and pretend.
- After enactment of the throwing of gem into the river they will make a return in ritual procession. This will be followed by the performance of the ‘Bhed Dance’ by the four ‘Penlops’. The teacher of the’Lenma’ will sing the ‘Lenma’ in a long-drawn melody.
- Handing out of scarves, ‘Jinlab’ and religious strings by His Holiness the Je Khenpo.
- Sports Competition such as Wrestling and Tug of war and giving out prizes.
End of Punakha Drubchen.