The Jambay Lhakhang temple has a colorful past and an equally colorful present. Supposedly one of a series of temples built to tame a demoness, today it hosts the Jambay Lhakhang Drup festival, during which the sacred Tercham, or Naked Dance, takes place.
In 659 AD, the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo had a serious problem in his realm. A supine demoness lay across the Himalayas, causing the region to pour forth savagery and malign forces. The king’s attempts to introduce Buddhism to the country were sure to fail should this demoness remain, and the very prospect of civilization in Tibet was under threat.
To combat this evil, Songtsen Gampo built a series of temples throughout the Himalayas, each one helping to pin down the demoness. Four were built to pin down her shoulders and hips; four more on the elbows and knees; and four to hold down her hands and feet. Later histories expand this already colorful legend even further, telling of how the king built 108 temples to defeat the demoness, all of which were built in a single day.
According to these legends, the temple of Jambay Lhakhang in the Bumthang District of Bhutan was built to pin down the left knee of the demoness. And with Jambay Lhakhang and the other temples in place, the demoness was pinned to the earth forever, allowing the king to rid the land of evil and introduce Buddhism to Tibet.
Of the 108 temples supposedly built to defeat the demoness, only a handful remain. These include Jambay Lhakhang, one of the oldest and most sacred temples in the Kingdom of Bhutan.
Today, the one-story temple complex, which sits on a plateau by the Bumthang Chhu River, is just as famous for its fanciful history as it is for its annual festival. The Jambay Lhakhang Drup festival is held each year to commemorate the building of the temple and to honor Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava), an 8th-century Buddhist master who consecrated the Jambay Lhakhang temple.
The four-day festival features many different dances, but two are considered particularly sacred. The first is the Mewang, or Fire Dance, which is held in the evening to bless infertile women in the hope that they may later bear children.
The second is the Tercham, or Naked Dance, during which sixteen men dance around the temple, all completely naked, on the stroke of midnight. Why? Well, it apparently dates back to the 8th century, when a band of devils was causing havoc in the area. To distract the devils, the local men performed a naked dance, their unclothed antics leaving the devils spellbound and rendering them harmless. Far less messy than an exorcism.
Know Before You Go
Jambay Lhakhang is located in Bumthang (also known as Jakar) in the central-eastern region of Bhutan, about 68 miles east of the capital Thimphu. You can visit the temple any time of the year. The Jambay Lhakhang Drup festival takes place every year, but the date varies. In 2018 it began on October 24, and is set to start on November 13 in 2019. And no, you’re not allowed to take photos of the naked dancers.