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Know About Pazaps And The Victory Festival Of Punakha Domchoe 

Have you ever experienced the Punakha Festival? Me as a local Bhutanese girl is thrilled to share that it’s my first time too, and let me tell you, it’s been a total joyfulness of learning and discovery! One of the coolest things I’ve learned about are the Pazaps, AKA the “fearless warriors of Punakha”. Who are the Pazaps?These guys were chosen for their fearlessness and in the past, they were also a part of Zhabdrung’s army, decked out in red and black. The Pazaps’ war cries, the explosive sound of the firecrackers, and the symbolic procession of immersing relics into the Mochu River are the absolute highlights of Punakha Domchoe. If you’re curious to learn more about these fearless warriors, read on! 

Pazaps The Brave Warriors Of Punakha 

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Pazaps dancing in circles

As I stepped into the courtyard of Punakha Dzong, my ears were blasted with the pulse-pounding war songs and explosive sounds of massive firecrackers being hurled about by the Pazaps. These 136 fearless fighters, garbed in striking red and black uniforms, represented the soldiers of Zhabdrung’s army. But the real showstopper was the battle reenactment during the annual Punakha festival, where 17 brave souls formed eight groups, each led by an esteemed general or Magpon. These fierce leaders were decked out in the finest battle garb, including magnificent ghos with eye-catching patterns, vibrant yellow silk skirts bedecked with colorful ribbons, and snazzy white, blue, and red boots. Topping off their impressive outfits were heavy metal helmets adorned with flags, with swords and bow and arrow at their sides. Believe me, this was no ordinary history lesson!

Background Information On Pazaps 

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Pazaps gathered for blessing

While watching the Pazaps perform, my dad filled me in on some fascinating history that I just have to share with you guys as it totally blew my mind too! In 1639, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal performed a ceremony to deceive the invading Tibetans into thinking he had thrown the sacred Rangjung Kharsapani into the river. The Tibetans had come to Punakha to forcibly retrieve the relic, which Zhabdrung had brought to Bhutan. When they realized the relic couldn’t be found in the river, they retreated. Zhabdrung won yet another battle with his cleverness and cunning!

The Annual Day Of Domchoe 

Each Pazaps Performs The Lengmag Dance

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Performing the Lengmang Dance

The annual day is the main event of the Punakha festival.  It’s a truly captivating spectacle that offers a powerful explanation of the entire act. On the final day of Domchoe, each Pazab performs the lengmag dance in front of Je-Khenpo in the grand courtyard of the Dzong. Even though we can’t decipher the exact lyrics of the Pazabs’ song, the way they sing it evokes a deep emotional response. 

Departs From The Dzong In Theatrical Manner

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The generals galloping on their horse towards the river

Their departure from the dzong is just as theatrical, with groups of Pazabs shouting, whistling, and gesturing as they descend the grand staircase. At the bottom, the generals mount their steeds and gallop in a cloud of dust in four different directions to protect the religious relics being immersed in the river. When these smartly dressed generals ride in on their horses, it truly transports you to the events of the past, and it’s nothing short of mind-blowing!

Je-Khenpo Throws Oranges In The River 

who are the pazaps, bhutan festival, Punakha Festival
Swimming across the river to collect oranges

We tagged along with the final group as they made their way towards the river with tons of excitement! The procession eventually halted at the riverbank, where we witnessed Je-Kenpo, sporting a black hat and a terrifying Mahakala head apron, conduct the law chok (a religious ceremony for sub-surface spirits). He then tossed a bunch of oranges into the river to represent the precious relic, Ranjung Kharsapani – the self-made image of the almighty Chenrezig. It was an absolutely awesome experience! 

As soon as Je-Kenpo tossed those oranges into the river, a pack of fearless kids dove right in after them, just like they’ve been doing for centuries! It’s such a wild tradition to witness. But what makes it even captivating is that Je-Kenpo represents none other than Zhabdrung, who performed the exact same ceremony in the very same spot back in the 17th century. Talk about history coming to life!

The Conclusion Of The Festival 

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Pazaps dancing their gratitude song

The Pazaps were absolutely elated after the triumphant immersion of the relic! As they galloped back to the dzong, the generals were lifted off their horses and carried up the stairs in a grand victory parade! The day concluded with an incredible celebration that included a final dance by the Pazaps, which my dad explained was like a big ol’ gratitude party for the successful event. And boy, was it a party! There was a massive vase called the Macha, filled to the brim with the local Bang Chang alcohol, contributed by not one, but eight different Gewogs. As the festivities came to an end, the Bangchang was handed out to all the locals who came to witness the festival. It’s crazy to think that the Macha is only brought out once a year for this very occasion!

Punakha Festival displays the act of how Zhabdrung along with the Pazaps won over the Rangjung Kharsapani and it is truly a fascinating one! If you have never bee to any Bhutan Festivals, then you can book your visit to Bhutan with us! Come and lets witness the play together! Contact or you can visit our website for further information!

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