Nabji Drup མནའ་འབོད་སྒྲུབ།


Although there seems to be no specific text about the origin of the Nabji Drup, according to Lam Chimi Rigzin and Lam Tenzinla, both from Nabji, it is believed that this festival was introduced by Dorji Lingpa (1346–1405) in the 14th century. Dorji Lingpa came from Tibet and discovered many treasures in Bhutan. In particular, he revealed the text of rDzogs pa chen po gsal ba’i me long (“mirror which clears the great perfection”) from Jampa Lhakhang in Bumthang. Dorji Lingpa also reconstructed the Chakhar temple, naming it Dechen Phodrang, and then initiated the Jampa Lhakhang Drup in Bumthang. He later went to Nabji and started the Nabji Drup as per the text’s prophecy. According to Lam Tenzinla, the Drup performed at Nabji – including the tercham (naked dance) – was thus modelled after Jampa Lhakhang Drup.

Nabji experienced many outbreaks of disease, with the village almost being wiped out at one point. In the 16th century, Pema Lingpa (1450-1521) and Trulku Chogden Gonpo (1497–1530) went to Nabji and performed rituals to stop the illnesses and resolve conflicts among several villages. Thereafter, the people of Nabji became devotees of Trulku Chogden Gonpo, who was believed to be the second reincarnation of Dorji Lingpa and a close disciple of Pema Lingpa.

With the villagers’ assistance, Chogden Gonpo restarted Nabji Drup, and later it was either the Chakhar Lam from Bumthang (believed to be a reincarnation of Trulku Chogden Gonpo) or Lam Ugyen Zangpo who took care of the festival. Lam Ugyen Zangpo subdued spirits in Bumthang that were harming people, and the locals came to regard him as their lam (spiritual teacher), so he came to be known as Chakhar Lam. Lam Ugyen Zangpo’s descendants from Chakhar have since had the responsibility of holding Nabji Drup. Presently, Lam Chimi Rigzin is the abbot of the temple and festival.

Lay practitioners (gomchen) perform the ritual and celebrate the Drup from the 15th– 20th days of the 11th month of the Bhutanese calendar. Through this ritual, villagers believe that by the grace of the local deities there will be no disasters or epidemics in the village, nor indeed in all of Bhutan. At the same time, the village will be blessed with abundant wealth and bountiful crops, and peace and harmony will reign in Bhutan.

Preparation for the Drup

On the 13th and 14th days of the 11th month, the temple caretaker collects the following items from the 46 villager households for the facility of the Drup:

  • 1 measure (sang) of butter; 1 piece of cheese; 2 eggs; 2 (750 ml) bottles of local wine; 1 bje of maize powder; 3 bje of red or white rice; 2 bje of zow (puffed rice); 1 bje of zhimtsi (perilla frutescens plant grains); and 4 bje of unhulled rice from all the 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.)
  • 3½ bundles (dom) of firewood

There are no differences in expectations of the rich and the poor. Everyone must contribute the above goods, but no money is collected for the ritual. The caretaker organizes the preparation of the religious cakes (torma) using the maize powder and makes the required arrangements in the temple for the Drup.

The village is divided into two parts, Upper Nabji and Lower Nabji, with the selection of the hosts for the Drup done by turns. If Upper Nabji is the host one year, then Lower Nabji will host the following year. This year (January 2015), it was Upper Nabji’s turn. Every day, four households from Upper Nabji prepared breakfast and donated butter for the afternoon tea, while another four households prepared dinner. This occurs in rotation, so every household will work once during the festival.

Rehearsal of Dances

A few elders and young students, guided by the elderly, perform the dance in the temple courtyard.

Drup Festival

First Day

Every year the caretaker assigns a sponsor for the festival, and in case if there is more than one declared sponsor, the caretaker gives out the responsibility of the festival on a first come first served basis. This year the sponsors were Ap Trashi Penjor and Aum Phurpamo. Dorji Sey Trulku, who currently resides at Dorji Sey in Tang, was asked by the villagers and abbot to come out and head the festival.

The caretaker prepares the main relics, and at 10 am, with a simple ceremony, these relics are taken to the sponsor’s residence and placed in the well decorated inner altar room.

The Trulku is then escorted in a chipdrel (procession) ceremony. He enters the sponsor’s residence and takes a seat in the inner altar room. Important villagers sit beside him, while others are seated in the outer room of the altar. The dancers enter the altar room, and a small offering (marchang) ceremony begins. After this ceremony, the lady of the house enters the altar room with local wine and offers it to the Trulku, after which it is served to the guests. The dancers then put on a performance.

The main relics are then carried back to the temple, but this time, the chipdrel is long and elaborate. The relics are carried in front of the procession, and then the Trulku and lamas bless the villagers who wait beside the path to receive blessings. When the chipdrel reaches the temple, a group of people who are near the entrance blow trumpets, and everyone circumambulates once around the temple before entering. Inside the temple’s inner chapel, the Trulku, lamas, and others prostrate several times, chanting prayers and offering mandala. Then the Trulku offers money and a scarf to the main inner chapel and the Guru statue, which is said to have been sculpted by Trulku Chogden Gonpo. The devotees then prostrate to the Trulku and lamas.

After these rituals, the ceremony of Zhudrel Phunsum Tshogpa begins, and at the end of the marchang people shout while a woman sings. Dancers, cooks, the caretaker, and all other participants in the festival are called in, and the Lama gives a command to them about their responsibilities. When this is over, participants are given holy water, which signifies purity and abiding of the command; this holy water works whether people drink it or not.

Ritual of Setting Boundary ཐོ་བསྡམས་ནི།

At 1 pm, the Trulku and lamas chant and insert tormas into boxes, which are placed in each of the four directions of the temple. They begin with the white box, which signifies the eastern king; then the yellow box, which is the south; followed by the red box, the west; and finally the blue box for the north. They circumambulate the temple while doing this.

After this ceremony, the Trulku and Lama stand on the temple’s steps and perform the ritual of clearing obstacles. Below the steps, there is a hole into which all the evil spirits will be locked. This hole is covered with a slate, on which the Trulku makes a cross sign with the dagger (phurpa). Fire, signifying anger or troubles, is placed on the slate, and water, symbol of peace, is poured over it. Peace brings down troubles, just as water does to a fire.

While this is happening, four masked dancers representing the Kings of Four Directions perform for the Trulku and Lama. Beside the dancers stands a man dressed like a hero holding a victory banner, and when the ritual is complete, he raised his sword and dances, performing a part called bae, signifying a hero expressing his abilities. Later, another man, who is dressed in the same way, takes the banner, holds a sword, and also performs the dance of the hero.

After this performance, another group of dancers appears, and then comes the dance of the ging, comprised of four performers. After the religious dance (cham) is over, most of the villagers disperse to go home, while inside the temple a blessing ceremony (Jinlab Thrikhar Koedni) is performed.

Later in the evening, the Trulku exits the temple dressed as a black hat tantrist (Zhana) and takes his seat in front of the temple. The dance of Pezang (alternately called Gapoi Chham) begins, which narrates the ancestors’ descent to earth and to Nabji village. Pezang is the son of the god Lhajagin Wangpo; he is considered the one who started the Nabji village festival. He is also the main jester of the festival. In the dance, Pezang begins to narrate about himself, after which four dancers representing the Kings of Four Directions perform in the courtyard.

The dancers then raise sticks holding a cloth on which an effigy of an evil spirit is drawn. They raise this just above the fire that burns in the middle of the courtyard. Then six Zhana arrive and dance. Meanwhile, Pezang goes around entertaining the audience.

Two new performers arrive at the courtyard holding a sword in their right hands and a scarf in their left. The Trulku steps near the fire, and the Kings of Four Direction dancers bring the cloth down close to the fire. The Trulku pours oil in the fire, which burns the cloth, and the four dancers leave the courtyard. The six Zhana performers continue performing, and then one by one they too leave the courtyard.

A monk with a scarf tied around his neck appears holding a white substance in both hands. He circulates the fire several times performing a dance, and then he leaves. A man then prostrates to the Trulku and receives a blessing from him. After that, the four performers come back to the courtyard with a bundle of sticks with fire for the Gektor ritual, which is meant to avoid obstacles.

The Trulku rises from his seat, and the ritual begins when a torma is placed in front of him. The Trulku holds a drilbu (small bell) and dorje (thunderbolt) and performs a ritual using fireworks. Then the Trulku and lamas walk toward the paddy field for the fire blessing (mewang) and stand above the gate made out of tree leaves and straws. The gate is set on fire, and the participants pass through it several times while the Trulku and lamas recite prayers. It is said that the more times people go through the gate, the more blessings they will receive and the more obstacles will be cleared.

Following this ritual, the Trulku, Lama and Pezang visit each household to remove obstacles, after which the Lama returns to the temple. He is later joined by the Trulku and Pezang, along with some dancers. The Trulku and Pezang are seated in the altar room, and, while the dancers perform, the lady of the house receives blessings, first from Pezang and then from the Trulku. The Trulku is offered two plates of rice and one bottle of wine, while half a bottle of wine is offered to Pezang. Later, dancers dance in each household, where they are also served wine.

The Trulku takes his wine (trashi chang), but his rice (trashi sumkoed) is kept in the house; it will be presented as an offering during the last day of the festival and will bring good luck to the family.

Second Day བཙུགས་དོན།

At 5 am the rising bell is rung, and at 5:30 porridge is served in the temple to the Lama and lay monks. They begin to chant the Lama Kadue, a Dorji Lingpa ritual, while in the dressing room masked dancers prepare for their performance.

The Trulku arrives at the temple, and a simplified chibdrel begins, with a drummer, a boy with a bell, some men and women singers, and others escorting the Trulku. After a while, the Trulku and other lamas are seated in front of the temple where the arrangement is made for the long life blessings (tshekhuk). People start prostrating to the Trulku and lamas. A carpet is now placed in front of them, and the recipient for the marchang is placed on the carpet while a woman sings.

During this ritual, there will be two offerings of marchang. The first is called Soeldeb Marchang, and another large pot full of tshechang (long life alcohol) is placed in the middle of the recipients. While the marchang is conducted, Zhenchey Pem, a dance similar to a hero dance, is performed by four men in the courtyard.

Pezang then arrives holding a tshedar, a long life flag that he uses to bless the audience. After that, other jesters join him in the courtyard. The Trulku, Lama, and a girl dressed as a dakini (khandro) holding a skull filled with alcohol face the temple. They perform some prayers and then offer the alcohol in the four directions – beginning from the east – to the Triple Gems, local deities, and dakinis.

They then stand near the cypress tree in front of the temple entrance, where people begin to receive the tshechang blessings from the Trulku and Pezang. At the end of the blessing, young men lift the villagers – regardless of their age or gender – and spin them around. The elderly say that this will dissolve the tshechang into their entire bodies. This ritual is repeated for the next two days.

At 11 am, masked dances begin with the Gektor, which involves a ritual cake offered to spirits and negative forces who may obstruct the festival. The masked dances are as follows:

  • Salang Chham Shinjay Pho Mo: Always performed as an introduction to other masked dances that will be performed during the festival.
  •  Zharling Chham: A half-naked man known as Hom (ཧོམ) comes out holding a stick in his hands; he is believed to be an evil spirit but considers himself to be superior.
  • Jug-Ging Chham: Can vary from 8 to 12 performers who wear animal masks, hold a stick, and are considered to be the manifestations of Guru Rinpoche. (In January 2015 there were 12 dancers.) This performance is said to be a ritual to clear away obstacles provoked by the Hom (ཧོམ).
  • Drol-Ging Chham: The dancers, varying from 8 to 12 performers, wear wrathful and peaceful masks, and are considered to be the manifestations of Guru Rinpoche. (In January 2015 there were 12 dancers.) A ritual cake called drawo (དགྲ་བོ), symbolizing the enemy, is placed in the middle of the courtyard, and the dancers perform around it. The chief dancer subdues the drawo, whose blood is then offered to the deities. The peaceful deities do a peaceful offering, while the wrathful deities offer a wrathful one. The ritual cakes are then kept in the inner chapel and will be discarded the following day. The dance ends with the expulsion of enemies, dokpa (བཟློག་པ), in the four directions.
  • Nga-Ging Chham: Eight performers carry a drum in the left hand and a drumstick in the right.
  • Jachung Baychung: Two performers wear a Garuda (jachung) mask, and one who is half naked wears a white skeleton mask. He is known as Zhaoli, the son of Pezang.

At 9 pm, near the courtyard, the dance of liberating the evil spirit’s soul (བསྒྲལ་འཆམ་) is performed, followed by the sacred naked Tercham (གཏེར་འཆམ་).

Third Day བར་དོན།

The rising bell is rung at 3 am, and at 3:20 porridge is served in the temple to the Lama and lay monks. They begin to perform the ritual of Lama Guru Drakpo, headed by the Trulku and the abbot. A man then plays the cymbals, drum, and bell to call the villagers, and then they all gather in the courtyard.

This day begins like the second. The Trulku and lamas come to the courtyard to perform the long life ritual, and a pot for marchang is placed in front the Trulku and Lamas. The first marchang is the Soeldep Marchang, in which Zhenchey Pem is performed, and Pezang arrives with a long life flag. The pot for the marchang is then removed, and religious tea (choja ཆོས་ཇ) is served to the Trulku and lamas.

The caretaker then arrives with the second marchang, which is the tshechang; this ritual follows the same order as on the previous day with the long-life blessing. Later, Pezang enters the courtyard with a sword hung on his belly to prepare himself to fight with Pholay during the Pholay Molay dance.

From around 11 am, the following masked dances are performed:

  • Shazam Cham: Stag Dance with four dancers
  • Shana Nga Cham: Black Hat Dance with five dancers
  • Ging Tsholing Cham: Dance of the Wrathful Deities and the Ging
  • Pholay Molay: Dance of Noble Men and Charming Ladies; Pezang’s grandmother also appears during this dance; she is considered the cause of the jealousy conflict between Pezang and Pholay about Molay.

This marks the end of the masked dances.

At 4:30 pm, inside the temple, the ritual of Guru Drakpoi TorDok (གུ་རུ་དྲག་པོའི་གཏོར་བཟློག) is performed to prevent obstacles and disasters in the village and the country; this ritual is for the wellbeing of all sentient beings. At 6:20 pm, the tormas, which are all painted red, are brought outside and placed on a table near the exit. Then two Jachung, two Shana, and the Kings of Four Directions perform the dance called Bey. The Trulku arrives in Zhana costume. A huge heap of straw is gathered in a paddy field below the temple where the tormas will the thrown and burned, and fireworks and small bombs are set off. After some time the tormas are taken to the straw pile, and the Trulku and abbot throw them into the fire. The abbot is the final person to return to the temple so that obstacles will not dare to affect the villagers.

At 9 pm, just as on the previous day, the Dance of Liberating the Evil’s Soul (བསྒྲལ་འཆམ་) is performed near the courtyard, followed by the sacred naked Tercham (གཏེར་འཆམ་).

4th Day གྲོལ་དོན།

The rising bell is rung at 4 am, and at 4:30 porridge is served in the temple to the Lama and lay monks. With the Trulku and abbot presiding, they begin to perform the ritual called Lama Tshepamed, followed by the same order of rituals as on the second and third days, up to the long-life blessing and the Gektor (བགེགས་གཏོར).

At 11 am the following masked dances are performed:

  • Chung Cham: Dance of Garuda; during the three-day festival, this marks the end of the masked dances.
  • Raksha Go Cham: Deer Head Dance
  • Nyel Cham or Mang Cham: Public Dance; there are nine episodes in this dance, between which people can offer scarves to the dancers to show their devotion.
  • Shinjay Cham: Shinjay (Lord of Death) is invited to the courtyard, after which the villagers receive blessings from him.

At 9 pm near the courtyard, the Dance of liberating the evil’s soul (བསྒྲལ་འཆམ་) is performed, followed by the sacred naked Tercham (གཏེར་འཆམ་).

Fifth Day

The rising bell is rung at 4 am, and at 4:30 porridge is served in the temple to the Lama and lay monks, after which they begin to chant the Lama Kadue, a Dorji Lingpa ritual.

A banner (thongdrel: a banner that liberates upon sight) of Guru Rinpoche and his two consorts – as well as of Zhabdrung; Dorji Lingpa; Trulku Chogden Gonpo; and protective deities – is displayed for the blessings near the temple. Upon completion, the thongdrel is returned to the temple.

At 11:30 am, the following tercham of Dorji Lingpa are performed:

  • Dri Cham: Sword Dance
  • Pa Cham: Dance of Heroes
  • DorLing Nga Cham: Drum Dance of Dorji Lingpa

After these dances are over, the main relics of the temple (statues of Dorji Lingpa; Chana Dorji/Vjrapani; Buddha; and a phallus-shaped stone) are brought out to the participants for blessings. The villagers then offer scarves and money to the dancers, after which they watch the farewell performance of Pezang returning to heaven. The mask of Pezang is then placed in the inner chapel and will not be taken out again until next year’s festival.

The villagers offer the auspicious prayer of Trashi Monlam along with the rice that was offered to the Trulku and lamas on the first day.

The day’s rituals end with the Dance of Good Parting (Trashi Labey).

Sixth Day

At 5 am on the final day the rising bell is rung, and at 5:15 a ritual of cleansing (Lhabsang Thrusel) is performed inside the temple. Singers and dancers sing a song (zheymo) called Choe Ki Tsawa Mitsuk (ཆོས་ཀྱི་རྩ་བ་མི་བཙུགས), composed by Dorji Lingpa.

The ritual that day is a confession ritual, which means confessing all misdeeds, failures, and other negative actions committed from the first day until the evening of the sixth day.

At 10:30 am, a jinsek (fire offering) is performed, followed by the dismantling of the boundary. Then the Trulku and Lama visit the host’s house carrying only the relics brought from Chakhar in Bumthang and not those from the temple.

The day ends with a Trashi Labey dance.


Lam Chimi Rigzin, 43, current abbot of the temple
Lam Tenzinla, 54, chief masked dancer
Ap Chimi Rigzin, 52, former cantor for 9 years
Ap Topola, 83, former chief masked dancer for 9 years
Ap Dubala, 50, caretaker of the temple
Kinley Pem, 18, student


lHo mon gi gnas yig ni. mna’ ‘bod Gor phug pa’i gnas yig dang Byams pa lha khang. sKu rjes lCags mkhar. O rgyan rin po che ‘Brug lu byon pa tshul tsam bkod pa’o. sdug sgrig pa blam ‘chi med rig ‘dzin.
ལྷོ་མོན་གནས་ཡིག་ནི། མནའ་འབོད་གོར་ཕུག་པའི་གནས་ཡིག་དང་། བྱམས་པ་ལྷ་ཁང་། སྐུ་རྗེས་ལྷ་ཁང་། ལྕགས་མཁར། ཨོ་རྒྱན་རིན་པོ་ཆེ་ འབྲུག་ལུ་བྱོན་པ་ཚུལ་ཙམ་བཀོད་པའོ། སྡུག་སྒྲིག་པ་ བླམ་འཆི་མེད་རིག་འཛིན།

Researcher and Photographer

Singye Wangchuk, Asst. Lecturer, Institute of Language and Culture Studies, Royal University of Bhutan, 2015

(Click on the Thumbnails to view the Photo Gallery)