Dancing Monks of Mongar – Bhutan

The resident monks of Mongar’s impressive Dzong are an inspiring dance force. Even if more for their enthusiasm and sense of fun, rather than as a well-choreographed in-sync dance troop.

Privileged to visit the dzong on an early November morning, I was delighted to catch the pre-festival mood as their chief abbot addressed his brotherhood with instructions on how they should enhance festival dance routines.

To the backdrop of walled prayer wheels, ornately coloured doorways and musical instrument playing Buddha frescoes, the main Dzong courtyard soon became a whirl of activity – red-robes whirling.

Watched over by the collection of eagle-eyed senior monks, traditionally dressed gho & kira costumed Dzong officials (huddled around the giant entrance prayer-wheels and balconies), Nicki my wife and I along with Ugyen Tshering and Jigme Dorji (our two local Bhutanese travelling hosts) were treated to an abundance of different dance shapes, leaps and spins.

Although officially led by one of the more experienced members of the monastery, most monks delighted in improvising with several of their own moves.

Slippers flying and red robes spinning, few of the holy men would have been out of place in competition with any global dance crew, from the most spirited of whirling-dervish to the most determined of western street-performers.

With an age range stretching from young boys to twenty-something men, it must be said, their sense of rhythm varied hugely. Senior spinners cutting their shapes as impressively as the younger crew managed to surreptitiously bump and bash into their fellow monastic brothers.

Few will have failed to sneak under the radar of the observant senior monks, who will ultimately choose the monastery’s front line festival dance team. This is a considerable responsibility with the festival season soon upon them and preparation time for any synchronised squad-improvement limited.

In addition to the flow of annual festivals, the most important local jamboree is the week-long Mongar tesechu, held from the seventh to tenth days of the 10th Lunar month (Nov or Dec). A festival that sees not only Cham dance performed by monks, nuns and locals, but also a colourful explosion of traditional Tibetan costumes, music and performing art.

I’m confident though … as on early inspection, Mongar Dzong’s monks are a force to be reckoned with.