Atsara – Not just a clown!


A huge, bloody red nose is the first thing that strikes you about the Atsara. Then comes the exaggerated facial expressions – the perpetual grin as if to mock you to submission. And then the attire gets you, somewhere between a hippie and a gypsy doing an absurd dance. Say hello to the Atsara, the Bhutanese jester.
Nevertheless, don’t let the appearance and antics fool you. Atsaras are Dupthobs or enlightened beings who have realized the Samsaric truths – defying contemporary norms and socially accepted human behavior. At their level, they rise above feelings of shame, anger, desire and the likes. They neither crave nor do they want.
Legend has it that Atsaras were among the Dupthob Gyabchu – the 80 disciples of the Buddha. The name Atsara is derived from the Sanskrit word Acharya meaning holy teacher. The term slowly transformed to Atsara as a result of travel and tongue. Back in the day, Atsaras were only popular in Trongsa and a handful of other places. It was only during the reign of the Second King that the tradition of Tshechus(Festivals) gained momentum in other Dzongkhags and Atsaras were introduced.
Atsaras are the Bhutanese version of the Sutradas – storytellers who give background and information of the mask dances as they are performed. There are three main functions of the Atsaras, namely Pchi – external, Nang – internal, and Sang – hidden. The external act is in assisting the mask dancers in case they make mistakes either with their costumes, gears or their dance steps. Common people are not allowed to help the dancers only the Atsaras have the privilege of doing so.
On the internal level, not all people watching can understand the essence of the dances or chams. And for the ones that don’t understand, the Atsaras provide comic relief thereby making sure that they are also entertained. On the hidden level the Atsaras have attained such levels of understanding the perpetual adventure in pursuit of eternal salvation that they are above worldly attachments, feelings or other desires. And so they are in their own ways trying to pass down the message. In the past, they even went down to adopting nudism, somewhat like the Hindu sadhus.
Their principles are similar to that of the Divine Madman Drukpa Kuenley’s. And they are also the only ones with a license to mock religion. Atsaras are literally handpicked. Usually the role of Atsara is passed down from father to son, but, today, the ones who have perfected all forms of mask dances are considered for the privileged role.
In the present scenario, the Atsaras have taken up a rather more serious responsibility – that of advocacy to educate the masses. Their characteristic charisma now helps to create awareness on sensitive issues like the use of condoms and the dangers of unprotected sex to mention a few. With time, the roles of these jesters are also evolving.
The messages they convey usually hit the mark as the methods they use are blunt, direct and difficult to ignore. With each passing year, the Atsara is constantly reinventing himself and fortunately, for now, it looks like the clown is here to stay.

Need Help?

(+975) 1711-2338


[email protected]