Punakha, situated in the western part of Bhutan, serves as the winter residence of the Je Khenpo, Bhutan’s Chief Abbot, and holds immense historical significance dating back to the era of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in the 17th century.

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel is celebrated as the unifier of Bhutan, credited with shaping the distinct cultural identity that sets Bhutan apart globally.

In the 17th century, Bhutan faced multiple invasions by Tibetan forces aiming to seize the revered relic, the Ranjung Kharsapani. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel led the Bhutanese to victory against the Tibetans, commemorating this triumph by initiating the Punakha Drubchen. Ever since, the Punakha Drubchen (also known as Puna Drubchen) has evolved into an annual festival in Punakha Dzongkhag.

This festival stands out due to its vivid reenactment of the 17th-century battle with the Tibetan army. Local militiamen, known as pazap, don traditional battle attire, recreating the historic confrontation. This reenactment pays homage to the time when men from the eight Tshogchens (great village blocks) of Thimphu rallied to expel the invading forces, bringing about a phase of newfound internal peace and stability in the country.

In 2005, responding to appeals from the Punakha District Administration and locals to preserve Buddhist teachings and honor Zhabdrung Rimpoche’s noble deeds, the 70th Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra and then Home Minister His Excellency Lyonpo Jigme Yoedzer Thinley introduced the Punakha Tshechu.

Both the Punakha Drubchen and Punakha Tshechu play a crucial role in conserving Bhutan’s rich culture and traditions. These festivals not only serve as a platform for devout Buddhists to engage in prayer and pilgrimage but also showcase the profound heritage of Bhutan, leaving a lasting impression on both Bhutanese citizens and tourists visiting the country.

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