Korphu Drup སྐོར་ཕུག་སྒྲུབ།


No authentic texts have been found thus far regarding the origin of the Korphu religious festival, but according to Chakhar Lam Dorji, Korphu Drup was introduced with the Peling religious dance by Pema Lingpa and Trulku Chogden Gonpo in the 16th century, using Bumthang’s Jampa Lhakhang and Nabji Drup as models. There is one distinction, however. During Korphu Drup, religious dances of the Peling tradition are performed, whereas at Nabji Drup religious dances of the Dorling tradition are performed.

Because Korphu Drup is in a remote location, various original practices could not be preserved. There was one man, however, who donated his paddy fields for Korphu Drup, and reintroduced the old practices by extending the number of ritual days and bringing back the traditional religious dances. Lama Phuntshok (exact dates unknown, but likely late 20th century) indeed devoted his life to the conservation and improvement of Korphu Drup and religion in the village.

Some seniors report that Korphu Drup had already been extended before Lama Phuntshok’s time, however, as in the past there had been a day long Drup during which some Peling religious dances were performed. It is possible that Lama Phuntshok mainly facilitated the preservation and expansion of Korphu Drup and that it was introduced by Pema Lingpa and Trulku Chogden Gonpo in the 16th century.

Lama Phuntshok’s achievements were made possible by the fact that he was from the Tamshing Choeje family from Bumthang and was therefore a descendent of Pema Lingpa. It was thus his responsibility to preserve the spiritual performances of the Peling lineage. For many years he travelled from Bumthang to Korphu in order to supervise and lead the Drup ceremony.

It is mainly lay practitioners (gomchen) who perform the ritual and celebrate the Drup from the 15th–19th days of the 11th month of the Bhutanese calendar. Villagers believe that by the grace of the local deities, this ceremony will allay disasters and epidemics in their village and indeed in all of Bhutan. Moreover, the village will be blessed with abundant wealth and bountiful crops, and there will be peace and harmony in the country.

Festivals that resemble Korphu Drup are celebrated all over central and eastern Bhutan in different forms and under different names. However, only in Jampa Lhakhang, Nabji, and Korphu Lhakhangs are they celebrated under the name of Drup.

Preparation for the Drup

On the 13th and 14th days of the 11th month, the head of community collects the following items from the villagers to facilitate the Drup (hese amounts are not fixed, however; they vary according to the expenditure of the Drup.):

  • 6 bje of rice from 25 taxpayer households; 5 bje from 50 taxpayer households (A bje is a bre in Choekey. The quantity is not standardized, but instead varies according to the area, valley, etc. 1 bje is roughly equal to ½ kg.)
  • 3 pieces of cheese; 1 sang of butter; 8 eggs; ¼ bje of chili and salt; 3 bje of zow (འཛརཝ); and 2 bottles of local beverage from both taxpayer and non-taxpayer households
  • 1000 Nu from all households for the ritual performers’ stipends, plus expenditure for the purchase of 7 bottles of oil

The caretaker prepares the religious cakes and makes required arrangements in the temple for the Drup.

Drup Festival

First Day

At around 5:30 am, two ritual performers wake up the village and head lama (a monk appointed by the Trongsa monk-body) by blowing the oboes (jaling) from the temple. Women then sing a religious wake-up song, standing close to the concerned lama’s residence. In 2015, the Petsheling Trulku Kunzang Gyamtsho was invited by the villagers to come from Bumthang and serve as head lama.

At around 7:30 or 8 am, all the masked dancers and female dancers take the head lama in a chipdrel (traditional procession) from his residence to the main temple of Lhundup Chodarling. During this chipdrel, dancers sing a song similar to “Alepe,” which is common all over Bhutan, but here it is a song called “Shomo Alemo” (ཤོག་མོ་ཨ་ལེ་མོ་), and it has a deep metaphorical meaning. This tradition was pioneered by Lama Phuntsok in the 20th century, and it has continued to this day. When the lama, all the dancers, and the sponsors of the Drup are gathered in the temple, the cooks serve them tea and sweetened rice (dresil འབྲས་སིལ), followed by an offering of libation to the protective deity (Marchang མར་ཆང་) and an auspicious ceremony called Zhugdral Phunsum Tsokpa.

Then lama gives advice and guidance to the concerned dancers to abide by the rules and regulations, avoid misconduct, and take responsibility for themselves until the completion of the Drup; the dancers are asked to drink “oath water” to bind this promise. During the time of Lama Phuntsok, all the male and female dancers had to sleep in the temple rooms, and a warden was appointed to look after them in order to avoid misconduct. If anyone failed to abide by the rules, he or she was liable for being punished with a stick; this rule has now vanished, as no one sleeps in the temple.

After the lama’s speech and ceremonies, lay practitioners begin the ritual, followed by an interval around 9:30 am.

Rehearsal of Masked Dances (འཆམ་རྒྱུགས་)

At about 10 am the day begins with masked dance rehearsals, starting with the Yamantaka dance (Shinje Cham གཤིན་རྗེའི་འཆམ) and several others. Lunch breaks the day.

Ritual of Setting Boundary (སྒྲུབ་ཀྱི་ཐོ་བསྡམ་)

The ritual resumes at about 2:30 pm, when the dancers prepare five large and five smaller flags in blue, white, yellow, red, and green. All households bring approximately 10 kg of firewood, which is used for a firepit and other purposes.

There is an interval around 3:30 when all the villagers are summoned to join the “ritual of boundary.” The villagers believe that if they join this ritual, they will be blessed and free from all obstacles for one year. Even today, cow herders bring their ropes and hang them on the temple’s window, ensuring that their cows will be safe in the jungle until the end of the festival. To this day no mishap has occurred to their cows.

After gathering all the villagers, dancers greet the head lama with a procession in front of the temple. The lama performs the ritual of making a boundary with an offering of ritual cakes and beverage in each of the four directions and the centre. He then hoists the five large and smaller flags in each of these five directions, representing the five Great Kings who protect the ritual performers, sponsors, and participants from all obstacles.

Ritual of Exorcism (སྲི་མནན་)

Exorcism is performed with an aim to suppress all kinds of evil by symbolically placing the evils into a triangular hole with the support of divine and local deities. At around 4:30 pm the ritual of exorcism begins, and an effigy of evil (ལིང་ག་), which has been packed in coarse hair, is placed in front of the head lama. He then gives a command three times to the evils to gather there, followed by the loud playing of religious instruments while four wrathful dancers and the carriers of the five wrathful banners (རུ་དར་) jump and run three times around the effigy of evil. The five wrathful banners are then hoisted in five directions, after which a senior and junior warrior perform the be (རྦད་བཤད་རྐྱབ་མི་) and come to the effigy of evil. The senior warrior chants a warrior song, while the junior dances to his words. After finishing this song, the effigy of evil is dragged toward the triangle hole, and the head lama puts the effigy into the hole in accordance with ritual performance.

Dance of Victory (ལེགས་གསོལ་)

Subsequently, the senior warrior leads the dance of victory with all the male dancers, accompanied by a special song used for this dance. They start the dance slowly and end with jumping and running.

Offering Beverage for the Victory of War (དམག་ཆང་)

The beverage is offered to divine and local deities for their help in the victory of the war against evils.

Dance of Ging (གིང་འཆམ་)

First, two gings (celestial beings from Guru Rinpoche’s paradise) perform a dance, and when they complete it two other gings perform the dance. There is a break for dinner around 5:30 pm.

Wrathful Fire Offering Rites (དྲག་པོའི་སྦྱིན་སྲེག་)

Prior to 7 pm, the dancers had dug a pyramid shaped firepit and laid firewood on top for the fire offering rites. At 7 pm, all the villagers gather in front of the temple and the firepit. The head lama adorns the tantric black-hat dress (ཞྭ་ནག་སྔགས་འཆང་གི་ཆས) and begins the wrathful fire offering rites. In this ritual, a variety of religious items are burned, representing the offering to the fire deity.

Simultaneously, some dancers boil tree-butter (ཤིང་མར་) in an iron pan. When this ritual is almost complete, a large drawn effigy of evil is burned in a blazing fire, which comes from the boiled tree-butter into which the head lama has poured the local liquor three times. The villagers rejoice and show their satisfaction when they see the burning of the effigy of evil.

The head lama then devotes (ngowa བསྔོ་བ་) the meritorious deeds of sponsoring the festival for the benefit of all sentient beings and the well-being of sponsors. This ritual is concluded with a dance called lhagcham (ལྷག་འཆམ་), performed by the person who was dressed as a monk and helped to burn religious items during the fire offering rites.

Ritual of Fire Blessing (མེ་དབང་)

Earlier on dancers had built a gate in front of the temple with dried logs and leaves for the fire-blessing ritual. Around 8:10 pm this fire blessing begins with four ging dancers (གིང་འཆམ་བཞི་) dancing out with blazing torches. After their dance they set fire to the gate, and when the fire is blazing the villagers pass through three times to receive the fire blessing. The villagers believe that harmful evils cannot enter into this gate due to the blazing fire, and indeed the evils run away.

Ritual to Remove Obstacles (བགེགས་བསྐྲད་)

At approximately 9 pm, the head lama, wearing a tantric black-hat dress (ཞྭ་ནག་སྔགས་འཆང་གི་ཆས), starts a ritual of removing obstacles. Four ging dancers holding a kind of broom (ཟྭོ་ཆ་) and a carrier of a specific ritual cake (gegtor) go to every house in the village and sweep away obstacles with the broom by touching the householder and everything in the house. The head lama then walks to every house in a procession throwing pieces of holy stones inside the houses to clean away the obstacles.

After that, the villagers rush for drink offerings (changshel ཆང་བཤལ་ “going to each house of village for drinks”) at every house. They divide into three groups: seniors, adults, and teenagers. The main householder stays in the house to serve drinks to people.

Dance of Victory (ལེགས་གསོལ་) and Offering Beverages for the Victory of War (དམག་ཆང་)

When they finish the ritual of expelling the obstacles, a dance of victory and offering of a beverage for the victory of war is performed as before in front of the temple. Then the dance of four gings is performed followed by the dance of warrior (རྦད་བཤད་) around at 1:00 am.

Dance of “Liberating the Evil’s Soul” (བསྒྲལ་འཆམ་)

Twelve dancers wearing wrathful masks and brocade dresses perform this dance of liberation. It is aimed at eliminating the evil’s soul and liberating it from this lower realm to a higher realm.

Tercham (གཏེར་འཆམ་)

At around 2 am, the tercham (“discovered dance”) is performed by naked dancers. They wrap only their faces and keep a eye hole for sight. The light around the temple is switched off, so that only the light of the wood fire at the centre remains. The villagers receive the blessing of tercham by bending under the dancers’ male organ. With this, the first day’s event concludes around 3 am.

History and Purpose of Tercham

According to Chakhar Lam Dorji from Bumthang, at Nabji village in the 8th century Guru Rinpoche mediated between King Sindha ( also known as King Sindhu Raja) and King Nawoche of India. When the Guru was ready to go back to India, he instructed King Sindha’s four daughters to construct a temple at Nabji. The daughters went to Nabji and tried to erect the temple, but at night evils would destroy their work. It was taking a very long time to finish the temple, so the daughters prayed to Guru Rinpoche for his help with the construction.

The local deities, who were located inside the cave on the right side of Nabji Lhakhang and were followers of Guru Rinpoche, helped distract the evils by dancing naked at night. Finally Nabji Lhakhang was completed, and from that event the tercham came into existence in Bhutan for the first time. It did disappear in the course of time, but fortunately in the 14th century Terton Dorji Lingpa visited Bhutan and introduced the Drup in Jampa and Nabji Lhakhangs, thus reintroducing the tercham.

According to Chakhar Lam Dorji, the Korphu tercham originated in Nabji, and since the tercham is blessed by Guru Rinpoche, the purpose of receiving this blessing is to attain freedom from all harm, obstacles, and disease.

Second Day

At around 4 am, two ritual performers wake up the village and the head lama by blowing oboes (jaling) from the temple. Women then sing a religious wake up song, standing close to the lama’s residence.

At around 5:30 am all the masked dancers and female dancers take the head lama from his residence to the main temple of Lhundup Chodarling in a chipdrel (procession). The ritual runs to 6:30, followed by a break.

At around 7 am, all the villagers gather at the temple for the long-life blessing (ཚེ་དབང་) given by the head lama. The purpose of receiving the long-life blessing is to pray to the deity Tshepame (Amitayus) to eliminate the obstacles that disturb life, give them a long life, and protect them from sudden death.

From approximately 11 am masked dances are performed by gomchens to drive away bad spirits and bless both the people and the location. The dances of the second day include:

  • Shinje Cham (shin rje cham) – Yamantaka Dance
  • Peling Chagtsel: A unique dance special to Korphu Lhakhang – 8 masks for this dance were crafted by Pema Lingpa, so they are considered sacred
  • Drametse Nga Cham (dgra med rtse rngacham) – Drum Dance of Drametse
  • ZhanaNga Cham (zhwa nag rngacham) – Black Hat Dance with drums
  • Nyulema Cham (nyu li ma cham) – Malevolent Spirit Dance
  • Pholay Molay (pho legs mo legs) – Dance of Noble Men and Charming Ladies

At around 8 pm, the Dance of Liberating the Evil’s Soul (བསྒྲལ་འཆམ་) is performed, followed by the same naked tercham (གཏེར་འཆམ་) as on the first evening.

Third Day

The morning session follows the same order as the second day up to the long-life blessing. The following masked dances are performed from around 10 am:

  • Phagcham (phag cham) – Dance of Vajravarahi
  • Migoe Cham (mi rgod cham) – Dance of the Snowman (Yeti)
  • Juging (rgyug ging cham) – Stick Dance
  • Durdag (dur bdag) – Dance of the Lords of the Cremation
  • Driging (gri ging cham) – Sword Dance
  • Ngaging (rnga ging) – Drum Dance
  • Ging Tshogling Cham (ging tshogs gling cham) – Dance of the Wrathful Deities and the Ging

Ritual of Burning Torma (གཏོར་རྒྱབ)

At around 5 pm, the ceremony of throwing ritual cakes (torma) into the fire begins. According to ritual, three types of torma are made in a pyramid shape and painted yellow, red, and blue. They represent the Lama, the Yidam (tutelary deity), and the Khando (female wisdom), respectively.

The torma are carried out to the ground where the firewood was arranged, and the head lama throws them all in the fire, after which he returns to the temple courtyard. This ritual is performed to get rid of the evils and as prevention against war in Bhutan by outside invaders.

The Dance of Victory is performed, followed by the Dance of Warriors and the offering of beverages to please the divine and local deities. At around 8 pm, the Dance of Liberating the Evil’s Soul (བསྒྲལ་འཆམ་) is performed, followed by the same naked tercham (གཏེར་འཆམ་) as on the previous two evenings.

Fourth Day

The morning session follows the same order as the previous two days up to the long-life blessing. From around 10 am, masked dances are performed as follows:

  • Shazam Cham (sha zam cham) – Stag Dance
  • Raksha Langgo Cham (raksha glang mgo cham) – Dance of the Animal-headed Attendants
  • Raksha Mangcham (raksha dmang cham) – Dance of the Judgment and the Intermediate State (བར་དོ་)

Fifth Day

The festival concludes with the display of a thongdrol (banner) of Pema Lingpa; a Dance of Dralha Pangtoe (dgra lha spang stod); a mock ritual by the jesters; a ritual of dismantling the boundary which was set at the start of the festival; and in the end a ritual of prosperous prayer by all performers and villagers.


Venerable Petsheling Trulku Kunzang Tenzin Gyamtsho
Ap Tandin, ex-gup and most senior villager
Ap Nyima Phuntso
Ap Pema Tashi, caretaker of Korphu Lhakhang
Umze Chimi Dorji
Ap Zeko, ex-gup
Tenzin, lead masked dancer
Dorji, Mangmi
Gonpo Dorji, Tshokpa


Dorji Gyeltshen. (2011). sKor phug sgrub kyi lo rgyus gser gyi thig spa’i yang snying. “Essence Drops of Gold. An account of Korphu Consecration.” Thimphu: The Center for Bhutan Studies.

Researcher and Photographer

Tenzin Dorji, Lecturer, Institute of Language and Culture Studies, 2015

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