The biggest festivals in Bhutan are the annual religious celebrations known as 'Tshechu'. It is believed that the tradition of the Tsechu was introduced by the Buddhist master Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rimpoche, who introduced Tantric Buddhism to Bhutan sometime in the eight century. Almost every district and important religious place in Bhutan holds its own Tsechu whose literal meaning is the "tenth day of the month". Therefore, while the month in which a festival is held varies from place to place, all Tsechus are invariably on or around the 10th day of a month in the Bhutanese Lunar calendar.
The central focus of the celebration is the religious mask dances called 'Cham' performed by both monks as well as lay persons. Accompanied by music from traditional religious musical instruments, the colorful dances offer moral instructions on compassion for sentient beings, and are believed to bring merit to all who witness them. Many of the dances are hundreds of years old and have been passed down from generation to generation.
Apart from its religious overtones, the Tsechu is also an annual social gathering which men, women and children attend attired in their best silk and brocade or intricately woven ghos and kiras. While these gatherings provide an ideal opportunity for outsiders to interact with the local people, it is important to keep in mind that these festivals are intrinsic part Bhutanese life and that their purpose is not merely for entertaining foreign visitors.
The two biggest Tsechus in Bhutan are the ones held in Paro - usually about March or April, and in Thimphu around September or October. Understandably they draw the largest numbers of tourists and it is necessary to book flights and hotels well in advance. However, there are many smaller Tsechus and festivals in other places some of which often feature unique dances and performances that cannot be seen elsewhere.